[26 March 2007]
Mainstream British rock is rarely unpredictable. Various Radioheads and Pink Floyds provide glimmering exceptions to the rules, but catchy songs are something we’ve come to expect from groups hailing from the United Kingdom. Look at early Beatles tracks like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, “Love Me Do”, “She Loves You”? No structural surprises or risky twists. Quite a few groups have followed a similar musical path on both sides of the Atlantic since those early ‘60s recordings. That said, a large majority of major label British pop is good, some even great. And so it is with the Kaiser Chiefs and their second LP, Yours Truly, Angry Mob.
Christening a record Yours Truly, Angry Mob clearly welcomes certain expectations that there will be fierce opinions and energetic choruses being slung about. There are opinions and choruses, no doubt, but whether they are fierce or energetic is a separate matter. Unfortunately, portions of the album ends up more lackluster than enlightening. At the end of “The Angry Mob”, the repeated lines, “We are the angry mob / We read the papers every day / We like who we like / We hate who we hate / But we’re oh so easily swayed”, while surely intended to be bold and anthematic criticisms of British culture, instead feel tired and worn. The intensity of the Kaiser Chiefs’ intent is unfortunately not quite matched by the content of their music. Satirical notions are good, but not if they aren’t backed by equally progressive musical ideas. Too much of the disc is everything we’ve already heard before. Songs that venture outside of the Chiefs’ usual style produce mixed results; the piano-tinged “Boxing Champ” is quickly forgettable, but the arena-style climax of “Try Your Best” is at once surprising and powerful.
The music of other modern UK bands begs to be mentioned in comparison, and the tense, frenzied energy of a song like Bloc Party’s single “Helicopter” makes the Chiefs’ single “Ruby” seem pale. Listening to the dynamic force and passionate melodic figures of bands like the Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand provides a foil to reveal the central elements lacking on Yours Truly, Angry Mob. Rarely (and increasingly so) is rock music truly technically stunning or sonically astonishing, but where many of the Kaiser Chief’s peers take average beats and boring lyrics and add some extra oomph, a little “fuck you”, or a touch of subtlety, the Chiefs assume that solid hooks and vocals will be enough. It is tragic and ironic when bands are their own album’s most accurate critics: Unfortunately, the Kaiser Chiefs sum up the album most concisely themselves in the repetitive, self-explanatory rocker, “Everything Is Average Nowadays”. Indeed.
Yours Truly, Angry Mob presents us fine Brit-rock in its purest form. A few chords, a chorus with a few verses, and some emotionally-charged lyrics wind tightly together into a nice little album more expansive and slightly more varied than the group’s 2005 release, Employment, which reached #2 on the UK charts, proving that often times simple rock can be enough. If you like a) the Kaiser Chiefs, b) bands that the Kaiser Chiefs sound like, or c) bands that sound like the Kaiser Chiefs, then your odds of enjoying this record are high. Ultimately Yours Truly, Angry Mob is, if nothing else, predictable. With fleeting exceptions, everything from the listenable vocal hooks to the formulaic chord progressions is seen coming from miles away. However, “predictable” is not synonymous with “bad”, and the music here is also quite enjoyable. But it’s not like we didn’t see that coming.