Released: 2014. Review originally published March 31st, 2014
Not many groups made it out of the mid noughties indie resurrection intact, but the Kaiser Chiefs have made a living from being much more than meets the ear. Whilst it would be stretching a point to describe the Leeds band as Promethean, they have throughout their decade-plus career managed to subtly challenge some of the little prejudices of their audience without confronting them, whether they be the tabloid consuming reactionaries of The Angry Mob or I Predict A Riot’s working class pugilists. If this prompted much soul searching amongst the majority wasn’t really the point; here were a band that were willing to treat their own music like a cultural Trojan Horse, their words a conscientious objector’s manifesto on the back of a lager stained beermat.
Much has happened since their last album The Future Is Medieval three years ago. As their principal songwriter, drummer Nick Hodgson’s departure was a significant blow, but equally singer Ricky Wilson conscious transformation from musician to entertainer was a clear sign of the boat rocking more than a little. To an extent the disruption also drew attention away from the record’s gimmicky formatting, as whilst the principal of self assembly was all very egalitarian, underneath it was hard to escape the feeling that the band were unclear on which material their starting eleven consisted of.
Wilson’s stint on talent show The Voice has in fact done as much if not more to promote Education, Education, Education & War than any format hopping could ever do, and despite the line up change – Vijay Mistry replacing Hodgson – its ten songs speak to a robust sense of continuity. This stiff upper lip Brio fits the antiquated, First World War presentation, although the title is a take on the equally blood stained regime of twenty first century Prime Minister Tony Blair.
In the past the most straightforward criticism of the Chiefs music was in its apparent disposability, but now maybe in spite rather than because of the flak sent their way, this is patently their grown up album, with guitarist Andy White solo-ing through it enthusiatically to his heart’s content. On Coming Home for instance they’re collectively shifting gears from frivolous to anthemic, laying to rest the skittish, been 30 seconds since a whoa-ho/chorus dynamic which has (Sometimes) held back even their best moments. These broader vistas are also apparent on Meanwhile Up In Heaven and Misery Company, both examples of the more immersive streak which the new writers co-operative have jointly contributed to.
There will be those wandering if there are any tell tale marks lingering from the Wilson-Hodgson breakup, it being after all the ending of New Yorkshire’s most enduring bromance. There are obvious traces, as on the refrain of Bows & Arrows: “You and me on the frontline/You and me every time/Its always you and me/We’re bows and arrows” – but despite a jigsaw piece being missing, the full picture is still easily discernible. There are also throwback moments, such as the shades of ..Predict A Riot at the free-wheeling start of Ruffians Are On Parade, but one of the album’s apex moments isn’t fought out on the Leeds side streets that you slip down, but via geo-politics as an Xbox game.
There have been many rumours of the Kaiser Chiefs demise, but despite the clumsiness of its title Education, Education, Education & War is the strongest signal yet that they remain defiant in the face of critical indifference. Erudite but still willing to grab the moment, they’re unashamedly an everyman band with the capacity to whittle away at the world’s wrongest common denominators. As for Ricky Wilson, his career morphing seems to have taken successfully, meaning surely that the tramps on Boar Lane will, for the foreseeable future, remain unsatisfied.