DON'T PREDICT A RIOT On their new record, Kaiser Chiefs are creatively energized, incorporating debonair discofunk, eerie '80s synthpop, and new wave to their post-Britpop mix.
Last summer, British pop veterans Kaiser Chiefs came up with a novel way to self-release their fourth full-length, The Future Is Medieval. Listeners could create and purchase a personalized digital version of the album by going to the band's Web site, sampling snippets of 20 songs and choosing the ten they liked most. Everything from the sequencing and song selection to The Future is Medieval's album art was controlled by fans, who then got paid one pound every time someone else bought their personalized version.
"It came out of boredom, really, I guess," guitarist Andrew "Whitey" White says of the stunt, by phone before a show at Manchester Academy. "We had some time off after that third album [2008's Off with Their Heads], and we were all pretty comfortable at home. We didn't have any excitement to record a new album. Ricky [Wilson, vocalist] came up with the idea, and we were really excited. It rejuvenated us. If we were going to release a fourth album, we definitely didn't want it to be the same way we've always released the album — the same way every band released an album."
The experiment preceded the physical version of The Future Is Medieval (released last summer with a static track list off Fiction) and the Stateside version of the record, this month's Start the Revolution Without Me (Cooperative Music), which features a different assortment of songs. More important, however, the reception to their forward-thinking vision exceeded the band's expectations. "People loved the idea— really loved the idea, which we were genuinely pleased at," White says. "We realized the idea was going to get some press over the songs, but we were surprised by how much. . . . It was reported in the New York Times — places we never thought it would get. I mean, it's not the way to sell records, but we knew that. We knew we were kind of shooting ourselves in the foot, really. But we kind of needed to do something different artistically. The way music's changing now, we felt we needed to do something new for us as well."
Indeed, the music industry of today bears little resemblance to the music industry of 2005, which is when the Leeds quintet became neo-Britpop darlings with the release of their debut, Employment. That album spawned several massive, quirky singles, including the synth-buzzed twirl "Everyday I Love You Less and Less" and theatrical dancefloor-burner "I Predict a Riot." Kaiser Chiefs' next two albums continued to show their knack for heavenly harmonies and insidious melodies — not to mention classic singles, such as the Blur-esque power-pop gem "Ruby" and the jangly post-punk stab "Never Miss a Beat" — but they never quite topped Employment.
In fact, White figures the band would probably still be on their post-Off with Their Heads break had it not been for the make-your-own-album promotion. But it's clear Kaiser Chiefs are creatively energized. While Start the Revolution Without Me contains plenty of familiar influences — Madness, David Bowie, XTC, Blur — it also incorporates a few new styles: debonair discofunk (the brittle "Things Change"), eerie '80s synthpop ("Heard It Break") and new wave (the Duran Duran-esque "Can't Mind My Own Business"). It's also more diverse and sophisticated, reliant on mood and texture rather than huge hooks or cheeky charm.