Album Review – Kaiser Chiefs – The Future is Medieval’

I’ve always been the first to jump in and defend Kaiser Chiefs, but frankly they haven’t always deserved it. As a band they haven’t really been artistically refreshing since their cracking breakthrough, ‘Employment’, in 2005, and since that undeniably fun and youthful new wave, things have been a bit hit and miss.

What followed their debut was ‘Yours Truly, Angry Mob’, which was a solid album and spawned a couple of nice juicy hits (‘Ruby’, ‘The Angry Mob’) but didn’t bring much in the way of innovation. It put them into a niche which was followed by the next lacklustre effort, ‘Off With Their Heads’, one where they stole the best aspects of the likes of Madness and the Kinks, threw in a smattering of synth, a jaunty single and some of Ricky’s straight talking lyricism, wasting the genius of Mark Ronson as producer in the process. They were never exactly bad and ‘Yours Truly’ and ‘Employment’ still get played often enough, but I never felt they were reaching the potential shown in their debut.

The most striking thing about this album is how brooding it is; opener ‘Little Shock’ comes in with beats and drum loops reminiscent of ‘Ghost Town’. Unfortunately, that’s where any comparisons to that seminal piece end; the song chugs along without really going anywhere. The dark tone is thought-provoking from the Chiefs if nothing else; they’ve hinted at a thuggish menace on previous songs, but here it seems more mature.

The album’s song titles (‘Things Change’, ‘Out of Focus’, ‘Heard It Break’ etc.), coupled with its darker mood, give the impression og a band that have realised they aren’t really as relevant as they once were, and don’t really care. Surprisingly, this seems like a good thing for the band; the album is detached from their previous, straight guitar work and the synth infecting songs like ‘Heard It Break’ and ‘Man On Mars’ often adds an almost humorous edge to the songs, suggesting that the murkiness isn’t as serious as you might infer. Forgettable entries include ‘Dead Or In Serious Trouble’, which contains energy which would have been far better used elsewhere.

The album finisher, ‘If You Will Have Me’, is an unexpected curveball: a lovesick, acoustic ballad with strings adding a bit of svelte crunch to Ricky Wilson’s unexceptional voice. On first listen it was a serene and calming experience at the end of a frenetic album, but it feels utterly tacked on. There’s no doubt it could become a fan favourite at live shows, but as part of this album it just wasn’t necessary given that the penultimate track ‘Coming Up For Air’ provides an equally melancholy pace but with far more lyrical bang.

Is this album the reenergising record that the Chiefs need? Well, in short, no. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good album in places and fans will buy it, but I doubt anyone will remember this latest effort for long. With their impressive history, Kaiser Chiefs should be a brilliant band, but are merely consistently fine. Four albums in, you get the feeling that this just isn’t going to cut it much longer.

Kaiser Chiefs
‘The Future is Medieval’
27th June 2011