The Kaiser Chiefs hold an awkward place in the 2005 class of British post-punk revivalists. They never had a problem matching the kinetic energy of Maximo Park or the Futureheads, but Ricky Wilson and company seemed to lack the endearing underdog quality their peers flaunted so effortlessly. In fact, the Kaiser Chiefs were an odd placement into the post-punk class in the first place. The ‘90s Britpop of Supergrass and Blur held just as much influence over their successful debut, 2005’s Employment, and when their sophomore effort came out two years later, the band was admittedly drawing from American classic rock of the 1970s.
For a band whose appeal was built on breakneck choruses and unbridled ebullience, The Future Is Medieval strides more than a few paces from the Chiefs’ traditional comfort zone. Per usual, their single choice, almost-raucous opener “Little Shocks” isn’t too distant a cousin of “Ruby” or “I Predict a Riot”, though the record as a whole is something of a departure. Once content to barricade songs around walls of guitar and piano key pounding, tracks like “Things Change” and “Starts With Nothing” do quite a bit of beating around the bush, which was never part of this quintet’s primary skill set. This, in addition to number of downright boring songs (“Child of the Jago”, “Out of Focus”) renders Medieval a downright lethargic listen at 13 songs. For a band once built around spry choruses and chugging guitars, this is a costly error indeed.
Much like the recent effort from countrymen the Arctic Monkeys, Medieval’s muses come from rock ‘n’ roll lore, especially late ‘60s Beatles. Wilson has taken a fancy for John Lennon in particular, with the wistful falsetto of “When All Is Quiet” as evidence. The even more subdued closer “If You Will Have Me” pines for the emotion of “Imagine” and “Man on Mars” embraces the Sgt. Pepper’s aesthetic with a little David Bowie oddballism tossed into the mix. Problem is, the Kaiser Chiefs are still far more dexterous within familiar territory despite their obvious ambitions. Despite being miles from the appeal of past rabble rousers like “Oh My God” and “Angry Mob”, the cranked up rawk of “Little Shocks” and “ Long Way From Celebrating” finds the Chiefs at their cantankerous best, or at least in 2011.
Despite all the homage to Brit rock’s past, the Kaiser Chiefs apparently still realize they are a band toughing it out in an ever-changing, modern day marketplace. Accordingly, The Future Is Medieval comes with a hokey promotion gimmick of Radiohead-esque aspirations. Released online almost a month in advance of its physical counterpart, speculative fans were given the opportunity to hand-pick their own ten-song album out of a 20-song pool of tracks from the Medieval sessions, along with customizable artwork. And to escalate matters to another level internet-music capitalism entirely, buyers were able to earn one British pound each time their version was purchased by another fan.
Regardless of who’s profiting off these songs, this doesn’t transform the lot into winners. The Kaiser Chiefs have had better ideas before, and the average NME-reading enthusiast of neo-Britpop would have been far better suited to have chosen ten favorite songs from Employment, or while we’re at it, What’s the Story Morning Glory, Parklife, or The Stone Roses. These lads from Leeds clearly realize their business model needs tweaking, though it’s their songbook that benefit most from an about-face.