Start the Revolution Without Me
By David M. Goldstein | 4 April 2012
I did not expect to be writing about Kaiser Chiefs in 2012. Do you even remember them? I admit that back in 2005, despite the rating inflation CMG suffered at the time, giving Sufjan a 94% and other unreasonable shit, I embarrassingly overrated KCs debut album, though both “Everyday I Love You Less and Less” and “I Predict a Riot” remain tight pub-rock singles seven years later (altogether now: “Oooooh…watching the people get lairrrrry / It’s not very pretty I telllllll thee!!”). But the warmed-over-classic-rock awfulness of their second album brought me to my senses; I hadn’t given Kaiser Chiefs a second thought until recently.
Apparently, in the interim, they’ve towed the fine line between NME punching bags and a pretty reliable entry on the UK festival circuit, in addition to being able to routinely fill up 2,000+ cap. venues stateside, despite not selling too many records. They also got into an amazing war of words with Noel Gallagher in 2008: “They play dress-up and sit on top of an apex of meaninglessness…they don’t mean anything to anybody apart from their fucking ugly girlfriends.” Ow.
And I’m still on Kaiser Chiefs’ e-mail list? Which is how I found out about the rather interesting marketing experiment they attempted in 2011. Instead of simply releasing their fourth album, The Future Is Medieval (changed to Start the Revolution Without Me for US consumption for some reason), they opted to create a website with twenty recorded songs, leaving it to the Everyperson Kaiser Chief fan to pick his or her ten favorites, sequence them in any order, and, voila, new Kaiser Chiefs album! What’s more: you could post your own unique version of the album, even receive some form of remuneration if your particular version was downloaded. You got to pick the cover art too! Wee!
This struck me as a clever idea on the band’s part for two reasons: 1) It simply got people talking about Kaiser Chiefs in a positive light again, and 2) putting the listener in charge of song selection and sequencing forces that listener to get particularly invested in the album, living out Big Name Producer fantasies. What overzealous music fan hasn’t thought out loud that the sequencing on an otherwise OK album sucked? Of course, all one could do outside of the UK was to merely listen to 90 second samples of each of the twenty songs, but it was a cool idea nevertheless.
So then Kaiser Chiefs waited some nine months to release this album on North American shores. Not trusting both Yanks and Canadians to properly sequence the album on their own, Kaiser Chiefs simply chose thirteen songs in a single order and renamed the whole deal Start the Revolution Without Me. But because North American listeners are subjected to thirteen songs when the British equivalent were clearly contented with ten, let’s go ahead and permanently axe “Child of the Jago,” “Can’t Mind My Own Business,” and “When All is Quiet,” all of which suck. What’s left is a melodic, stridently upbeat album which at the very least serves as a good reminder as to why you may have caught yourself liking this band seven years ago.
For one, they’re still more than capable of banging out catchy little boozehound anthems in their sleep. It’s true Kaiser Chiefs albums always have at least one unbelievable earworm of a song that leaves listeners considering that what they’re hearing may in fact be the sound of the greatest British band of the past decade—for at least three minutes. Turns out that song is usually the first song on the album. “Little Shocks” lives up to its spot; ignore how “I wish I could give you undivided attention every minute every day but I can’t!” constitutes the catchiest chorus of 2012 thus far. It’s also a refreshingly paranoid sounding thing, a five-car pileup of jittery synth noises and crashing feedback far more Fear of Music (1979) than Parklife (1994). First US single “On the Run” and “Kind of Girl You Are” are more in keeping with the band’s M.O. (i.e., catchy hyper-activeness), with jump-prone frontman Ricky Wilson supplying “whoa-oh-oh” hooks out the wazoo, just as we’ve all come to expect.
Even reduced to a proper ten songs, Revolution is still a bit front-loaded, if only because the band will never be as adept at slow atmosphere as they are upbeat rock, though the droning “Starts With Nothing” and Bowie pastiche of “Man On Mars” are good for a change of pace. But well done Kaiser Chiefs with your marketing gimmick: it got me listening to a catchy little Brit-rock album I would not have otherwise touched. You remain a heck of a singles band, Kaiser Chiefs, despite being considerably goofy bastards otherwise begging anyone with sense to dislike you. Every country deserves its own answer to the Dandy Warhols, I suppose.