Album Review: Kaiser Chiefs – Stay Together

By on Tuesday, 11th October 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Kaiser Chiefs Stay Together album coverLike it or not, Kaiser Chiefs find themselves in the unenviable position of being a veteran rock band. Hugely popular in the second half of the Noughties, you couldn’t get away from them on the radio in the UK if you tried. As the next decade progressed and primary songwriter, founding member and drummer Nick Hodgson left the band. The question on everyone’s mind, then, was could they could continue as a viable band? While 2014’s ‘Education, Education, Education and War’ album garnered mixed reviews, there was enough to prove to everyone that they still had it in them. With their sixth album ‘Stay Together’, on the surface it looks like they’ve done a complete 180. However, frontman Ricky Wilson says, “When we wrote the first record we were very direct, little needed explaining. The songs seemed to speak for themselves and did all the hard work for us. [First single] ‘Parachute’ is pretty self-explanatory and a bit of a return to that. ‘Parachute’ is probably the first love song we’ve written since ‘Ruby'”. Bassist Simon Rix goes one step further: “But you want modern technology. You don’t want to just be dinosaurs with guitars.”

With as honest explanations like these, how could any Kaiser Chiefs fan balk? Well, many have. Some have even gone so far to suggest Wilson in particular has sold out to the pop world following his coaching stint on The Voice. If you read past the negative comments to their videos for ‘Parachute’ and ‘Hole in My Soul’, I am buoyed in particular by those who say the new song is fresh and positive. It’s a common complaint once a band gets to a certain ‘age’ in their career and if they leave off ‘the hits’ from a set list. Based on the highly unscientific conversations I have with bands off the record, the majority of them say they get bored of playing the same old stuff all the time – wouldn’t you if you were playing the same songs every night? – and are just itching to get new material out. They’re not writing different sounding songs purposely to annoy you. At the end of the day, musicians are people too, so cut them some slack. [End of PSA.]

Wilson explains that the ‘Education…’ record “was our protest album, then ‘Stay Together’ is our relationship album.” He admits that working with producer Brian Higgins (Girls Aloud, Pet Shop Boys, New Order) “brought a very different approach to song writing and recording, it was a steep learning curve”. Whatever they did in the studio together, there seems no evidence of this learning curve, as the results are polished. Carrie and I joked one year at SXSW that you couldn’t swing a dead cat around Austin without hitting an attractive synth player. Well, almost.

As unprecedented as this use of synths (and to this extent) is on a Kaiser Chiefs records, there is no mistaking the catchiness of these numbers. ‘We Stay Together’ begins the album…wait for it…with a disco beat. Yes, you read that right. With Wilson’s effective crooning, he’s an effective ringleader for these proceedings under a mirrorball. Not the most elegant of opening tracks (“and there’s a time bomb and it’s gonna go off / then we’ll disarm it ‘cos I’m so better off with you”), but it’s still promising. The dance throwback vibe is revisited in ‘Press Rewind’, cowritten with MNEK.

It’s not all fun and games on ‘Stay Together’, however. ‘Why Do You Do It to Me’ is not a “I love you so much, you’re driving me crazy’ kind of song. It’s a foot-stomping, guitar wub wub wub, “Why do you always try to make me feel like a nobody?” kind of song. One wonders if that was written for Donald Trump. In another strangely pop moment with requisite shouts from Wilson in the chorus, ‘Indoor Firework’, he gets existentialist and life affirming on us in the pre-chorus: “love is a weapon / life is a war / death is a number / waiting to fall / living and I believe, and I believe in living”. There’s another confusing battle with the mind in ‘Sunday Morning’. As the most rock moment on the album with Andrew White’s guitar twanging away and a slaphappy drum beat underneath, it also oddly sticks out like a sore thumb among all the pop gems. Could it be that Kaiser Chiefs have succeeded in their metamorphosis?

With the exception of a falsetto experiment gone wrong in the painful ‘High Society’, ‘Stay Together’ makes the case that the way forward for this band to remain hip and successful is by the pop route. In closer ‘Still Waiting’, there even seems to be a clue placed in the lyrics to suggest they’re perfectly okay with this: “we’re still waiting / even though we’re not electric anymore”. The world where ‘I Predict a Riot’ and ‘Never Miss a Beat’ became hits is long gone now, and Kaiser Chiefs decided they wouldn’t just stand there and pretend time hasn’t moved. They’ve taken a huge risk, stepping well out of their comfort zone. While they might hemorrhage some fans still holding on to the old days, there should be plenty new ones lining up to cheer on this new chapter in their career.

8/10

‘Stay Together’, the sixth album from Kaiser Chiefs, is out now on Fiction Records / Caroline International. In addition to previously announced UK arena dates for February and March 2017 and following a public shaming by their Scottish fans, they’re playing an uncharacteristically small show at Glasgow ABC tonight. For more on Kaiser Chiefs on TGTF, follow this link.

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