Leeds-based indie rock quintet Kaiser Chiefs’ fifth album, Education, Education, Education & War, the first without drummer/songwriter Nick Hodgson, finds the band’s biggest successes well in the past and a forced transition now the focal point of their present and future.
Knowing full well the scrutiny they’d be under, Kaiser Chiefs hired some big guns in-studio. Among them are producer Ben H. Allen III (Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective), songwriter Fraser T Smith (CeeLo Green, Adele) and filling Hodgson’s old role is Club Smith’s Vijay Mistry.
So, with all those changes afoot, you’d expect a new, revitalized Kaiser Chiefs. Sadly, that’s not what you get. The same Clash-by-way-of-the-Jam sound prevails, with a never-ending push to create more chant-along arena anthems like “I Predict a Riot” and “Ruby”. Trouble is, after all these years, it’s starting to feel forced. Starting with “The Factory Gates”, frontman Ricky Wilson sets his sights on the unfairness and disparity of modern British life, which is a bit rich, coming from a host of The Voice. “What you make on the factory floor – you take straight to the company store”, he chants. That’s more or less the tone all ten of Education, Education, Education & War’s tracks – wicked-fast drums, sweeping organs and sneer-faced lyrics.
On “Ruffians on Parade”, Kaiser Chiefs get up to their old tricks, using the well-visited “ooooh wooooah woah” both in verse and chorus “What an ending – With ’em sending in the drones (ooooh wooah oooooh).” Which leads to “Ruffians are on Parade! Whoa Whoooah” and while the lyrics are relevant and topical, they get lost in the band’s undying pursuit of a uber catchy hook.
And that’s not to say the album’s without its merits. In the spirit of his punk predecessors, Wilson clearly knows how to channel his anger into snark-filled statements. “Cannons”, one of the album’s anti-war anthems, sarcastically chants“We’re gonna need a lot more cannons – If you wanna be home by Christmas” as a rail against a never-ending propaganda machine. Continued with “Our wonderful training kept us off the front line – Stops the kill, entertaining – Drops the bill every time”, on “Misery Company”. These aren’t exactly groundbreaking ideas, but good satire is good satire.
You’d expect the changes you hear on Education, Education, Education & War to mirror the ones Kaiser Chiefs have experienced outside of the studio. But the band has stuck with what they know – psychedelic guitars/organs, ska/dub pacing and the punk fury against the UK’s uglier landscapes. And so, what’s on display here is a reactionary need to prove they’re the same Kaiser Chiefs we’ve always known – even when the opposite is painfully obvious.
Essential Tracks: “The Factory Gates”, “Meanwhile Up in Heaven”, “Bows & Arrows”.