Kaiser Chiefs are:
Ricky Wilson – vocals
Andrew White – guitar
Simon Rix – bass
Nick Baines – keyboards, synths
Vijay Mistry – drums
Kaiser Chiefs – Education, Education, Education and War
1. The Factory Floor
2. Coming Home
3. Misery Company
4. Ruffians On Parade
5. Meanwhile Up in Heave
6. One More Last Song
7. My Life
8. Bows & Arrows
Running time: 45:08
Education, Education, Education and War, the fifth studio album from Kaiser Chiefs that from here on in I'll refer to simply as Education... for purposes of my sanity, has no right to succeed. The United Kingdom has pretty much moved on from the faux indie pop rock of band's that started to emerge around a decade ago with most such acts either plodding along anonymously or having fallen by the wayside altogether. By way of example, Franz Ferdinand continue to make records to little fanfare, even though newer material is seemingly more appealing to the trained ear. Razorlight has been inactive for a number of years although there's a comeback attempt this summer that seems to have run out of steam already. As for the Kaiser Chiefs, their last record was the bizarre The Future is Medieval. A unique promotion that allowed customers' to pick their own track listing from a choice of 23 songs, design their own artwork and sell their version on to other customers meant the record got a bit of attention, but only just enough to land in in he Top 10 upon release. The record was later released in the US without the unique marketing under the title Start the Revolution Without Me.
Then of course, there was the loss of Nick Hodgson in 2012 when he decided to focus on other projects. Hodgson was one of the founding members of the band, along with Ricky Wilson, as well as being the Chiefs' drummer. Now, losing a drummer isn't necessarily a big problem for any decent band – Hodgson has been replaced with Vijay Mistry. Even losing a founding member is something many bands have managed to overcome so that's no issue. What doesn't help is the fact that Hodgson did the majority of the band's song-writing. Now that's an issue. To summarise, you have a band in decline, making music for a niche audience now missing a founding member who happens to write the music. Time to give up right? Wrong!
Ricky Wilson and co. have a new marketing strategy. Wilson last year became a judge on the UK's version of reality singing competition The Voice, along with will.i.am, Kylie Minogue and Tom Jones. Most people may not have realised who he was at the time, but they sure do remember the Kaiser Chiefs and the glory days of “Oh My God,” “I Predict a Riot” and “Ruby.” But Wilson has slimmed down a lot since those hit singles and their respective videos, so not only does he and his band have all this new exposure due to a primetime Saturday night TV show, he's also a new television pin-up for girls around the country. I've not watched the show, but from what I gather Ricky comes across as a likeable guy as well as bringing a certain credibility that Miss Minogue and will.i.am cannot offer. So, now's probably a good time to release that new album.
Crucially, Education... has enough great songs that it doesn't matter how the album has been promoted nor why it's being released now. Take for example, “Misery Company.” It's one of the record's best tracks but it's also one of the best songs I have heard all year. It opens with a dirty great big riff and some fairly bog-standard driving drums, and then there's a maniacal cackle in the background before Wilson's voice croons over that drumbeat and some well-placed percussion. The base line kicks in as we build to a vicious chorus that brings that laugh back – it's a sinister yet almost comedic laugh that actually makes up the majority of the chorus. There's some oriental sounds that takes into the second verse that again sees Wilson singing with much confidence before he launches into another fist-pumping laughing fit of a chorus. And just when you think you have the song sussed, Andrew White rips into this ridiculous guitar solo that is pretty much the last thing we'd expect to hear from a Kaiser Chiefs tune. It;s delivered with such suave that you'd think the boys had been making tunes like this for years. The track is totally off the wall and doesn't exactly encourage a massive singalong, but it's ridiculously fun.
Although this effort is a clear stand out, there are other bright moments scattered around the record. The album opens with “The Factory Floor,” a beautifully aggressive hell-raiser that owes a lot to the Britpop sounds of the 90s and bands like Pulp, but bites with a lot more vigour. Wilson sounds completely pissed off if anything, though it's not clear what. It's a song about monotony, being a slave to the man and being “contractually tied to death's door,” a wonderful lyric. The irony of this is too often throughout the 45-minute run-time of Education..., the Kaisers offer up run-of-the-mill tracks that fail to leave a lasting impression, the type that explains why bands of this ilk tend to fade away so quickly. But with tunes like “Misery Company” and “The Factory Floor,” there's clearly still something left to offer. “Ruffians On Parade” offers up similar aggression even if it never quite lives up to the aforementioned, it still manages to get your foot tapping pretty frantically on your bedroom floor.
To give credit where it's due, the band has maintained its ability to script nod-along choruses throughout the record. Lead single “Coming Home” is an obvious example of this, and “Meanwhile Up In Heaven” is another. These are calmer moments, but ones that are likely to get more people involved simply because it takes less effort. Considering the departure of Hodgson, the band has done well to keep writing songs that highlight progression yet still sound quintessentially Kaisers. Enlisting the help of Fraser T Smith (Adele, Sam Smith) to co-write three songs probably helped, as is proven by the fact that those three songs (“The Factory Floor,” “Ruffians On Parade” and “Cannons”) are among the record's best.
With a title that's derived from a Tony Blair quip (former UK Prime Minister for our friends in the USA) it should come as no surprise that there's plenty of anti-authority sentiment to be shouted about but Ricky Wilson isn't exactly saying anything new or original about the state of the United Kingdom in 2014 and perhaps that's what makes it difficult to pay attention for the album's full running time. To the band's credit, it seems to be a genuine grievance that Wilson has as he snarls about “politicians and children first” on the furious “Cannons,” a track that takes a glorious turn with its toes dipped in the heavy metal genre and then Bill Nighy showing up for a cameo. Unfortunately such moments of brilliance aren't frequent enough for this to make Education... the album of the year contender it might have been, but it's a monumental atempt at a comeback by a band that clearly still has something to say.
Kaiser Chiefs - "Coming Home"
The 411: If Ricky Wilson and co. were indeed predicting another rioting, their efforts are slightly misguided – this is more like sending a strongly-worded letter to whomever it may concern. Still, as is usually the case with the Kaisers, its heart's in the right place and actually, there's plenty on offer here, from more soothing, sing-along-inducing potential singles to more hell-raising numbers. The addition of Smith as a co-writer certainly helps an album that may never have materialised – the band could easily have folded 18 months ago but in persevering the Kaiser Chiefs have made their best album since 2005's debut record Employment.