Article – The Kaiser Chiefs

The Backlash Starts Here?

(Originally published in Inform Magazine, April 2005)

The Kaiser Cheifs arrive in this city with a sell-out gig plus an acclaimed album to back it up. So why does everybody hate tham?

Contrary to popular belief, we don’t really like to build ‘em up and knock ‘em down in this country. For a start it’s usually one group of people who like to build something up and everyone else who likes to knock ‘em down. It’s a wonder that anybody likes anything any more. An exception to this is an artist who courts controversy and opinions; thanks to Pete Doherty’s heroic drug intake hardly anyone found time to knock The Libertines while they were going, because everyone was too busy telling everyone else what they thought, and there’s nothing journalists and other opinion formers like more.

So what are we to make of the Kaiser Chiefs? Well, two singles and one album in and already people are writing them off. People are frothing at the mouth on the internet in their fervour to slag them, and this viewpoint is already starting to be taken up by the more virulent journalists, who are decrying them for their lack of that mysterious element: ‘edge’. Their not being drug-addled fuck-ups could perhaps be their downfall.

Do the Kaiser Chiefs deserve this treatment? After all, they’ve released two genuinely great singles in I Predict A Riot and Oh My God, great slabs of unashamed indie pop fun at a time when ‘alternative’ music seems to be disappearing under a rash of proto-pompous sloganeering (step forward The Others, the Futureheads et al). What’s not to like?

The five Leeds-based members were originally a ‘new rock’ band called Parva, who completely failed to get any kind of attention. The ditching of the name (fair enough) along with all their songs and even their sound could perhaps raise a few warning bells amongst the cynical, despite the fact that most bands do something similar at the beginning of the career, up to and including the Beatles (leather clad rockers to suit-bedecked popsmiths). In fact, lead singer Ricky Wilson (not the dead one from the B52s) now admits that Parva were a calculated attempt to get signed by doing what everyone else was doing and the Chiefs are more true to themselves.

Hmm. It’s true that the Kaiser Chiefs don’t really sound like anybody else at the moment – to an extent. Oh, the haircuts are there, as is the current fashion for in-yer-face guitar production. But where the Chiefs dare to be different is by being both silly and modest. Where every Johnny Come Lately these days is declaring themselves as the future of music, Wilson is happy to admit that they’re not brilliant. Honest, perhaps, but it doesn’t make good copy.

As for silly, perhaps Wilson shouldn’t have declared, “We’re like the Beatles in Hard Day’s Night – it’s hilarious 24-7!” The band’s image is of daft photographs and even dafter videos, tapping into the classic British pop idiom of bands like The Kinks, Slade, Madness and Blur – all bands who were definitely thought of as lesser acts at the time (compared to the likes of the Stones, Bowie, the Specials and Oasis) but garnering much re-appraisal long after their time. The main thrust of the attack against the Kaiser Chiefs seems centred on their almost pathological desire not to be taken seriously, which often equates to ‘lightweight’ in many critics’ eyes. But then this is a country where a genuine 100% genius like Vivian Stanshall was ignored for most of his life. Frankly, put the playful Kaiser Chiefs up against the po-faced and frankly dull Bloc Party and I know which I’ll still be listening to in 10 years’ time.

But perhaps their worst crime is to openly exhibit their crass self-involvement. Two of the songs on the Kaiser Chiefs’s debut album are about how jealous they felt at a rival band getting signed – not exactly the sort of thing to touch the hearts of the listener. The album’s even called Employment, for chrissakes, and it’s the notion that that the Kaiser Chiefs are nothing more than a career for Wilson and the band – with barely any acknowledgement that music might actually be more than that – that may prove most damning for a band before they’ve hardly started. Okay, not much music is made by musicians in unheated garrets tearing songs from their souls, no matter what the impression they may give you. Certainly, the Kaiser Chiefs have got a lot of fans at the moment – their gig at the roomy Carling Academy this month is already sold out – but how soon before that fanbase is eroded under the onslaught of starry-eyed critics who think that even if you are treating music as a cynical way to gain a regular income, you should at least lie about it? The Kaiser Chiefs may just be too honest for their own good.

The Kaiser Chiefs play the Carling Academy on Friday April 8th. Good luck getting a ticket.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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