Written by: Goran Child, Special to CC2K
‘Hey, mate – heard the new Kaiser Chiefs album, Off With Their Heads? Yeah? Nice one. What did you make of it? What do you mean, vapid and derivative? No, what do those words mean? Bland? How the hell is it bland? Banal? Stop using big words. Go on, how is it bland? Yes, I know it’s entirely composed of songs which have catchy beginnings and then slump into unremarkability, before climaxing with lots of inarticulate gang-vocal shouting. What’s wrong with that? Ah, see – you’re on the wrong track. You were expecting music, in the conventional sense of the word, and with the historical connotations of a cultural sensibility? Well, no wonder you don’t like them, you Puritan!
No, it’s not an error on their part – it’s brilliant: you see, the ostentatious opening bars are so that people in British pubs – your average Joes, not people with any real interest in anything – can remark things like, “Quality tune, this: I heard it on the radio the other day whilst I was reading a tabloid newspaper.” What about the shouts? Well it’s obvious, isn’t it? They’re so that people in British nightclubs can sing along en masse, whilst holding aloft their cans of cheap lager. Oh, be fair – it’d be too much to expect them to learn any actual words. No, look, you’re still not getting it: it’s not supposed to be actually listened to, silly! It’s there to make up a scene, a discourse; it’s there to have been playing in the background when you puked up in a kebab shop in the early hours of a Saturday morning, but still managed to pull that bird in the lime-green cocktail dress. It’s the sort of music during which you and the lads embrace each other, and invent racist football chants to rhyme with.
Don’t pull that face: these are the components of contemporary English life, and if you ask me it’s very important that a band like the Kaiser Chiefs exist to embody and implicitly promote them. They’re not afraid of confronting social realities – listen: here, on ‘Good Days Bad Days’, they’re talking about how, you know, people have good days and bad days. Some days are good, and others are bad: it’s a timeless historical constant that there will be good days and bad days, and I don’t think anyone’s thought to commit this existential fact to music just yet. And Lily Allen’s there on a few songs, doing backing vocals. She adds credibility, unquestionably. No, that isn’t my only example. I’ve got loads!
‘Remember You’re a Girl’: brilliant title, brilliant song. ‘Addicted to Drugs’, right – no, it isn’t a crap song, and no there isn’t anything wrong with starting a song with a few bars in which nothing is said except ‘whoah-oh, wheyyy-heyyy, whoah-oh’ – ‘Addicted to Drugs’, yeah, yeah, it’s about drug addiction. It’s unflinching in its portrayal of what The Sun newspaper calls ‘Broken Britain’. And because he’s singing in an exaggerated Yorkshire accent, it’s all the more gritty. It’s like that black and white bit at the beginning of Kill Bill – no, not gimmickry; innovation! – it’s hard to stomach things when they’re so up close and personal.
No, I think you’re the one in denial, mate. No, look, you can’t just keep saying that the album doesn’t have a single fresh idea in it. When did you last hear a British guitar band who sounded like they actually cared, anyway? Oceansize? Never heard of them. Youthmovies? You’re just making these up, now. Elbow? Nah, mate, too complex: you never know which bit’s chorus and which bit’s verse – a bit too avant garde for the British public, that. Bloc Party? Too black, mate – this is England we’re talking about. No, no: Kaiser Chiefs – that’s where the zeitgeist’s at, mate. Bollocks: zeitgeists have always been good things, actually – name one that wasn’t. Oh, what a surprise – everyone always brings up Nazism when they’re losing an argument. Anyway, there was no historical overlap between the Kaisers and the Nazis, so you’re wrong again. And anyway, there are stacks of ideas here – almost too many, to be honest. They could easily have done a White Album with it. Listen, Mr Let’s-throw-the-Nazis-into-the-conversation: they’ve got Sway DaSafo rapping on ‘Half the Truth’, and he’s as black as your hat. Who’s the Nazi now? No, I think if you think back to what you said, you’ll remember that you did compare the Kaiser Chiefs to the Nazis. No, you definitely did.
They’re more like Dadaists than anything else. How? I’ll tell you how, my friend. They’re innovators, pure and simple. No, that’s exactly it: they’re innovators precisely because their songs are forgettable and hackneyed. They know it, we know it, the man in the moon knows it. They’re demolishing, deconstructing even, that prehistoric idea that art has to actually provoke emotion, or interest, or thought of any kind. We’re in an age of postmodernity now, my friend: it’s all about being so disillusioned with existence that you actively embrace the unmemorable and ephemeral, and the Kaiser Chiefs are taking the first steps into a world where tepidity is the glorious norm! Yes, exactly, it’s the musical equivalent of Pablum: ingenious, right?
Remember that Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip song, ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’? You must do – it was massive at all the festivals last summer. Yeah, that’s it; remember how it had that section where he said things like “The Beach Boys, just a band; Sex Pistols, just a band”? Right, well the Kaiser Chiefs aren’t even just a band; they’re a sort of filmy goo, an ectoplasm which shimmers, only just noticed, on the fringe of every human experience in the U.K. You’re not supposed to recall their songs until someone plays them for you, at which point you’ll say, fondly, “Oh yeah, that was playing as I was waxing my bikini line in eager anticipation of my boyfriend, who wears T-Shirts with things like ‘BIG JOHN’S POON CABIN printed on the front of them. They usually only last a few washes.” They’re sort of a subliminal counter-culture, made to be played as background music at light-hearted moments in soap operas, and so forth.
No they’re not a poor man’s nouveau-Kinks; they’re at least as good as the Kinks – better, probably. Yeah, I’ll grant you that they have nothing to say, but that’s the whole point: there is nothing left to say – leave all that cultural statement stuff to the modernists, mate. And, to be fair to them, they’re honest about it. When Chief Kaiser Chief Ricky Wilson runs out of lyrics, he doesn’t try to hide it, does he? He just sings ‘oh’ until the song fades out; I like that honesty. Well sorry we’re not all John bloody Milton mate – honestly, you really do have some funny ideas about music. Yeah, well obviously they only bother using the keyboard for the opening bars of each song – when has a band ever made a career out of using a keyboard as an instrument in its own right, for crying out loud? Well I’m afraid I’ve never heard of Rick Wakeman, so you lose again!
What’s that mate? You can’t tell whether they’re taking the piss or embodying that very thing out of which they sometimes seem to be taking the piss? Well exactly. What do I mean, “Well exactly”? I’ll tell you what: they’ve seen the fine line between satire and exemplum, and they’re treading it like the dextrous maestros that they are. Genius, really. No, I’m not exaggerating: “Like a tomato in the rain, I’ve got that feeling again,/Like a greyhound in a race, I’ve got a rabbit to chase.” Listen to those lyrics – they’re better than all of Sergeant Pepper put together! And the best thing is, you won’t even remember hearing them until you see them on a late night talk show performing the song, and not really looking like they care. Why? Because they probably don’t care; why would they? God is dead, remember. So’s music – and the Kaiser Chiefs’ new album is at the forefront of the devolution. All hail the Kaiser Chiefs!’