Ben Levett reviews Kaiser Chiefs’ latest offering, ‘Stay Together’.
In an attempt to remain relevant, the Kaiser Chiefs switch guitars for synths in an album which doesn’t always work, but demonstrates their determination to be different.
It is no overstatement to say that the Kaiser Chiefs are one of the most popular British bands of the millennium. With hit singles such as ‘Ruby’, ‘I Predict a Riot’ and ‘Oh My God’ to name but a few, it is safe to say that if you don’t know any Kaiser Chiefs songs then you must have been in a sealed box (without a radio) since 2004.
After two terrifically successful albums and sold out shows at Earl’s Court in 2007, the heat of their success waned with their third album. Despite landing at number 2 when released and top 10 hit ‘Never Miss A Beat’ briefly ruling mainstream radio playlists, it didn’t quite hit the heights of what had been achieved before.
It was after this that the Kaiser Chiefs decided to take a different approach in order to survive in the music industry and maintain credibility. On their fourth album they attempted to revolutionise the way we buy music by allowing people to create their own tracklist of 10 songs (from a selection of 23) and also edit the album artwork. This stunt failed miserably, with singles ‘Little Shocks’ and ‘Kinda Girl You Are’ failing to impact on the UK chart, despite being two of their strongest songs. All signs pointed for the impending end of their status as a household name.
However this was not to be. With lead singer Ricky Wilson joining the judging panel for BBC’s ‘The Voice’, the profile of the Kaiser Chiefs was revitalised as their main man was plunged into the public eye. 2014’s album ‘Education, Education, Education and War’ reached number 1 in the UK charts and they embarked on a huge UK culminating in a huge homecoming show at Leeds First Direct arena.
The Kaiser Chiefs could then have remained complacent, forevermore touring their greatest hits and playing to huge festival crowds, but their ambitions were too great. With Ricky choosing to leave ‘The Voice’ in an effort to focus more on the band itself, it was clear that the Kaiser Chiefs’ were not content to remain artistically static and this is evident right from the start of ‘Stay Together’ with the title track having a strong Kylie-esque dance pop sound.
When, during my brief meeting with the band, I asked why they decided to go down this route, keyboardist Nick Baines echoed my preconceptions: ‘We needed to change our sound – that’s why we’re still here today’. He also talked about them having listened to a lot of house music in the dressing room and wanting to try and make an album with those themes. This becomes very evident on ‘Parachute’ one of the album’s stronger tracks, reminiscent of Coldplay’s ‘Sky Full of Stars’ – an indie rock band trying their hands at a dance music track – which you want to hate but can’t because its chorus becomes involuntarily etched into your brain after one play.
This isn’t the only song that manages to engrave itself in your temporal lobes, with ‘Why Do You Do It To Me’ and ‘Hole in My Sole’ being inoffensive but decent pop songs with, again, unfairly catchy choruses. A personal favourite is ‘High Society’, one of the few tracks on the album with a strong guitar presence but which still manages to sound different from any old Kaiser Chiefs track. Here Ricky’s Robert Plant-esque falsetto sounds as pure as it is menacing, proving the Kaiser Chiefs are not a force to be reckoned with. Bassist Simon Rix’s self-confessed favourite track ‘Press Rewind’ is another of the album’s high points, opening with techno themes and progressing into a guitar based indie rock track – an impressive feat in itself but even more so considering how well it works.
However, for the most part, the album is relatively uninteresting with limited replay value. Although there is nothing particularly wrong with any of the tracks, there were none that I was dying to go back to. Additionally, the sound they have created on this album seems mismatched in the current musical climate: not far enough down the dance-pop route to enter the singles charts and not retro sounding enough to ignite interest from older fans. Discovering that the album was co-written and produced by Brian Higgins, who has most notably worked past pop-sensations Girls Aloud, S Club and The Saturdays did not seem surprising after first listening to this album.
As a long time Kaiser Chief fan, being able to see them upstairs in HMV was particularly exciting considering the other times I’ve seen them – from much further away and in huge crowds at Reading, Benicassim and Glastonbury. While they understandably seemed much happier performing their new tracks, being able to see ‘I Predict a Riot’ and ‘Ruby’ in such an intimate setting was truly special. In addition, it was so evident how much they enjoyed meeting the fans, drummer Vijay Mistry saying how special it is to meet the people who have made the effort to buy the record and come and see them perform.
So, although it won’t go down in history as the greatest indie rock/dance music transition album of all time, it certainly shows that the Kaiser Chiefs’ ambitions have not dwindled and we will certainly be looking forward to the next album…and probably the one after that too.
Make sure to check http://www.hmv.com/hmvlive for the chance to see and meet other great acts live in store.