There is very little that Kaiser Chiefs haven’t done over the years to keep themselves relevant. Appear on a talent show? Done it. Release an album through a quirky new method? Been there. Had a song feature on an advert? Of course. Yet while it is easy to mock such self-promotion, the Leeds five-piece have outlasted many of their peers and racked up more than 15 years as a band – which is no mean feat.
Not all of these stunts paid off in terms of album sales – 2011’s The Future Is Medieval, which allowed fans to create their own version from 20 tracks, didn’t shake up the music industry in perhaps the way they’d hoped – but at least they were trying. Frontman Ricky Wilson, in particular, went to great lengths to promote the band, with his two seasons as a judge on BBC talent show The Voice helping to broaden their fanbase.
Wilson’s efforts were eventually rewarded when fifth album, Education, Education, Education & War, reached Number 1 in the UK Album Chart – their first chart-topping effort since 2007’s Yours Truly, Angry Mob in 2007. Admittedly, they only had The X Factor winner Sam Bailey to contend with, but it did suggest that Kaiser Chiefs still had legs. Two years have passed since and while Wilson is no longer part of The Voice, his band continue to fight on.
Stay Together is their latest offering, although you wouldn’t know it from simply listening to the record. For Kaiser Chiefs’ sixth LP sees the band go down the synth pop route, possibly in a bid to appeal to those fans Wilson attracted during his TV stint. This new sound was debuted by single Parachute, which ditched the band’s trademark spiky guitar riffs in favour of glossy dance-pop synths and a radio-friendly chorus.
“If we’ve only got one parachute/ you know I’d give it to you,” sings Wilson, without the edge that made early tracks like I Predict A Riot so distinctive. Unsurprisingly, Parachute proved divisive among the fans who have stuck with the band since Employment, but those hoping it was just a one-off will be sadly disappointed. As Wilson previously stated, Stay Together is “like no Kaiser Chiefs record you have heard before”.
Opener We Stay Together carries on where Parachute left off, employing a carefree synth hook as Wilson delivers his lyrics with a confident strut. It’s an infectious start to proceedings and for a brief moment, it seems like Kaiser Chiefs might just pull off this change in direction (spoiler alert: they don’t). Things soon begin to go downhill rapidly, with Hole In My Soul a sickly sweet example of why Stay Together just doesn’t work.
Producer Brian Higgins (Girls Aloud, The Wanted, The Saturdays) and Westlife songwriter Wayne Hector both had significant roles in Kaiser Chiefs 2.0 and it is telling. Happen In A Heartbeat is a slick pop track, but it lacks any identity and is a chore to listen to, while the less said about High Society – where Wilson attempts falsetto – the better. Elsewhere, Press Rewind sounds tired and forgettable and Indoor Firework is just nondescript.
There are a few bright moments, but they are saved until the end. Sunday Morning is a playful take on their older sound, while eight-minute closer Still Waiting has a bit more meat on the bones and a good chorus to boot. In all honesty, though, it doesn’t feel right to call Stay Together a Kaiser Chiefs album. It’s not that it’s terrible – and credit should go to them for being so adventurous – but this might just be a makeover too far.