Review: Kaiser Chiefs’ “Off With Their Heads”

Nov 5, 2008 11:50am

  The Kaiser Chiefs’ 2005 debut, “Employment,” offered a one-two punch with the singles, “I Predict A Riot” and “Oh My God.”  That record placed them among the best post-punk British new-wave revivalists.  Last year’s “Yours Truly, Angry Mob,” was merely a reliable, mildly enjoyable follow-up, anchored by the tremendous single, “Ruby.”  The band has turned their third record around quickly and that intensity is evident in this tight set.  Dare I say that “Off With Their Heads” captures the band’s energy even better than “Employment.” It just might be the band’s finest offering to date.  The thirty-five minute album goes by quickly but it’s like a fast, fun ride.  It begins with the two-minute, brooding and menacing “Spanish Metal.”  The uncertain backdrop recalls “I Predict A Riot.”  It’s initially built around a two-chord charge-in, and singer Ricky Wilson harmonizes with himself with eerie ease.  It’s a powerful way to begin a record.  “Never Miss A Beat,” the album’s main single, should please both rock-heads and those who like something edgy to dance to.  It’s a seemingly sarcastic ode to lack of knowledge.  Wilson sings, “It’s cool to know nothing.”  As a surf-like guitar line gives the track groove, you know this will be a hit.  This album was co-produced by Mark Ronson, which means the Chiefs must have fully dug Ronson’s exciting cover of “Oh My God” on his album, “Version” last year. Not only that, Ronson’s collaborator on that track, Lily Allen sings back-up on two tracks here, including this one. “Like It Too Much” is a slow-charging pounder.  The piano prods along until the song speeds up for a few seconds and the guitars and bass take on a ska-like flexibility. The song peaks with the dramatic lines, “You are descended from animals. / And you are constructed of chemicals .” This song is also in a classic Kaiser Chiefs mold. “You Want History” is a keyboard-driven, new-wave groover.  It sounds almost cheap and silly at the beginning, but it revels in said cheesiness, thus rendering itself cool.  Think of a middle—ground between Duran Duran and the Faint and add some nice organ-work, and you’ve got the idea.  “Can’t Say What I Mean” is another peppy potential single driven by a single-repeated tone keyboard line.  But its core is pure pop-driven punk of the highest order.  It’s catchy as can be as Wilson’s vocals are mirrored by the guitar parts.  Indeed, this is a highlight.  “Good Days Bad Days” sounds like the Clash in disco mode.  The Chiefs’ obvious Clash influence has always followed them, but here they manage to churn it into late-seventies-sounding gold.  “Tomato In the Rain” is the slowest song on here so far, but it still keeps a decent pace.  Again, an organ-line keeps a raindrop-like rhythm and Wilson’s vocals have a calm almost psychedelic quality as he sings, “Like a tomato in the rain, I got that feeling again.”  What the song means is anyone’s guess, but it sounds great. “Half The Truth” is another potential single.  Once again, Wilson is singing in an energetic chant-like fashion.  It recalls the best tracks of “Employment.”  Again, the organ is central, giving the song some extra garage-driven kick.  All of a sudden, rapper, Sway pops out and delivers an unexpected but fitting verse.  The whole track is amazingly cohesive.  “Always Happens Like That” is a low-key slice of easy going ska, which gets some nifty punk energy during the chorus.  It sounds a little like something you would’ve found on a Blur album from the mid-nineties.  Lily Allen returns to give some nice background vocal work.  “Addicted To Drugs” is a kicking, cow-bell infused rocker which simultaneously recalls both Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love” and “Weird Al” Yankovic’s parody, “Addicted To Spuds,” with its chorus, “You might as well face it, you’re addicted to drugs.”  It’s infectious and heavily danceable, so it could wind up being a single as well.  “Remember You’re A Girl” ends the album in a soft, almost Lennon-esque way.  It has a little of the Chiefs’ sing-song-y lift, but mostly it’s a soft moment for reflection.  It’s easily the band’s best down-tempo number and an album highlight.  “Off With Their Heads” is a flawless rock album, recalling the magic of “Employment” while still showing growth. There isn’t a weak track here.  It should please old fans and earn the band new ones as well.  Maybe this is the album which will get the Kaiser Chiefs the amount of exposure they deserve. 

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