Music

Kaiser Chiefs: Education, Education, Education & War

A big moment for the Kaisers, this album just about passes the pick of the pops test. It still stays too much in their quasi-new wave/indie comfort zone, but the different and interesting bits lend it some allure.


Kaiser Chiefs

Education, Education, Education & War

Label: Fiction
US Release Date: 2014-04-01
UK Release Date: 2014-03-31
Label Website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

Forget the title of this album for now. It has both a spurious origin and something that’s also somewhat more meaningful to the Kaiser Chiefs (and will become clear). Let’s consider the Kaiser Chiefs, a British band of some renown in their homeland and across Europe.

Since the Kaisers first came on to the scene proper in 2005, there have been at least three models. The first the hip indie band of “Oh My God”, their first hit . Model mark two was the ubiquitous anthem-punching group of “I Predict a Riot”. The third version was that which seemed comfortable in the pop mainstream, the band of “Ruby, Ruby, Ruby”. But "Ruby" was a hit in 2007, and the last few years have not been halcyon for the band from Leeds. Their last album from 2011, The Future Is Medieval, sank without trace. So it was only a minor implosion when the Kaisers’ drummer – and more to the point, their co-songwriter and co-lead vocalist Nick Hodgson – left the band in late 2012.

The Kaiser Chiefs’ problem had become clear long before Hodgson left. They had nowhere to go. They had always seemed a band out of time, more suited to the good Britpop times of the mid-'90s. So, if we re-consider Kaiser Chiefs in early 2014, a new studio album is a seriously big deal. Can they reverse the plunges in sales? Can Ricky Wilson, vocalist and Hodgson’s song-writing partner for a decade, cut it by himself? Most of all, can the Kaisers persuade the record-buying public they actually belong to the 21st century?

Two things are striking about Education, Education, Education & War after listening to the first track, “The Factory Gates”. First, they (meaning Wilson) can still write an anthem; second, there’s an attack to their playing which shows they recognise only too well how high the stakes are. The song lacks subtlety, but that’s more than compensated for by the glorious second “Coming Home”. The first single off the album in the UK, it’s one of the best songs Kaiser Chiefs have ever recorded: widescreen panoramic while simultaneously parochially wistful; and slowed just a controlled touch so that Wilson can sing rather than shout. The shimmering guitar could make it a prime U2 '80s album cut, but it has its own identity and the vulnerable edge to the lyrics suggests it means quite a lot to Ricky Wilson (and that maybe parting more with his mate Hodgson was more painful than he's said).

“Coming Home” still manages to convey an authentic anthemic feel, and it could have been a template for the rest of the album. Unfortunately that’s not the case, and the next two tracks – “Misery Company” and “Ruffians on Parade” – revert to bog-standard Kaisers: late '70s new wave mixed with average '90s Britpop. “Meanwhile Up in Heaven” is another song slightly slowed down, and instantly more interesting for it. Maybe it’s the Farfisa organ, perhaps it’s the full sound. Whatever, like “Coming Home” it manages to combine an '80s nostalgia feel with something that is contemporary. It also emphasises that Wilson can sing when his voice isn’t straining at declaiming.

The rest of the album continues in a bitty way. The tunes remain fairly tuneful (although not overwhelmingly so). The sloganeering allied to marching beats gets a little monotonous. The punky edge is an ever-present. It’s also a reminder that the band have lost something in the shape of Hodgson’s voice – the guy who pre-empted the Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders as a singing drummer is much missed in that respect.

The one tune to cause a start is the penultimate“Cannons”. From the Black Sabbath “Iron Man”-like growling opening to the perfectly-enunciated spoken word outro from the actor Bill Nighy, it’s Ricky Wilson’s attempt to issue a statement. It certainly sounds like a manifesto, and suggests why the band chose to add the word war to the famous/notorious Tony Blair bluster of “education, education, education”. You suspect Wilson had in mind the bitter anti-war diatribes of Roger Waters; although (bar Nighy), it’s more reminiscent of the Jam’s classic army and establishment piss-take “Eton Rifles” without the cutting edge.

"Roses" is a fine track to close. It wobbles and teeters on some brink, it sounds reassuringly uncertain, it presents the Wilson voice in an unusual minor key register. Above all, it is a rest from the declamatory statements and martial beats.

Education, Education, Education & War is an album that gets better on repeated listens. That must mean that the best bits – and there are many – increasingly obscure the mediocre parts – and there are several of those too. It’s still not the triumph you suspect the Kaisers so desperately wanted. But they are looking up rather than down; and they’ve created a platform which, given some more experimentation and daring, might take them places next time round.

6

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image