It’s hard to believe now but just over a decade ago when Kaiser Chiefs and Arctic Monkeys both emerged they spearheaded an unstoppable northern indie charge for the mainstream. However, since then the two bands have enjoyed wildly contrasting fortunes. While Alex Turner’s group have now reached their apex in terms of popularity and critical success, Ricky Wilson’s have floundered. Rumours began to circulate in 2008 that their label B-Unique were close to dropping the Leeds outfit and four years later founding member, co-songwriter and drummer Nick Hodgson announced he would not be working with the band any further, choosing to focus on other projects.
2014’s ‘Education, Education, Education & War’ was met with a mixed reception so it’s no surprise that the band have looked to experiment and update their sound. Although, choosing to ditch the guitars and roping in Xenomania producer Brian Higgins (Girls Aloud, Kylie Minogue, Sugababes) was a u-turn not many people would have foreseen. It’s a decision that unfortunately, doesn’t pay off. The resulting album, ‘Stay Together’ will surely perform well in terms of record sales but in truth, this is pretty tame, sterile stock pop which drains the character and energy from the group.
The title track aims for the danceable Euro pop that Coldplay have had a stab at in recent years and while the drastic change in direction is admirable, it all comes off sounding too forced and rather desperate. The nauseating ‘Parachute’, which slots in somewhere between The Killers and modern day Take That is considerably less impressive. Recent single ‘Hole In My Soul’ at least has an indelible and catchy chorus, even if it does sound like something Katy Perry would produce to soundtrack an X Factor ‘best bits’ montage. Also, the less said about it’s tedious, promotional music video/Honda ad the better.
There are some intriguing diversions here and there. ‘High Society’ and ‘Sunday Morning’ offer some variation but even they are marred by stale, oversaturated production, underwhelming vocals and nonsense lyrics about fog being out of reach. Fortunately, the latter track is just about saved by a genuinely snappy coda.
What’s perhaps the most frustrating and saddening thing is that prior to Wilson’s ego tripping exercise as a judge and mentor on BBC talent show The Voice, the band had been making steady progress following 2008’s poorly received (commercially at least) ‘Off With Their Heads’. It’s follow up ‘The Future Is Medieval’ was a sprawling and adventurous, if relatively inconsistent project which allowed fans to create their own personalised album, right down to the artwork and could choose from a selection of over twenty songs. One can only conclude that the level of ambition they displayed previously has now vanished along with their former drummer.
As a self-styled pop record then, ‘Stay Together’ is something of a failure, distinctly lacking in hooks, entertainment value and any sort of real ingenuity. Here, even their trademark wit is also disappointingly absent. It’s a real low for a band that were once so difficult to dislike, never mind hate. In a recent interview with NME, Kaiser Chief's bassist Simon Rix explained that the band didn't want to sound like "dinosaurs with guitars". However, by happily opting for the safe choice, striving for commercial viability instead of an intelligent and well considered reinvention, they have arguably committed a far worse musical crime.
Words: Luke Winstanley
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