Britpop ebullience turns to disillusionment as Kaisers come of age
Laydeezangennulmen, a warm hand for the ‘difficult second album’ from those lovable Yorkshire scamps, the gagmungous geezers of tramp-wanking titillation, the Five Stooges of Britpop 2… Kaiser Chiefs! Altogether now: “WoooooooAAAAHHHH…”
“If you came here on your own you’d be dead/You raise a glass until you raise a fist or two/And get a shopping basket wrapped around your head” – ‘We Are The Angry Mob’. Ha ha! Brilliant! Such dry, acerbic humour this time, what a classic comedic twist to their… “Everything is going down the pan/There’s not much to believe in/And everything will always stay the same” – ‘Everything Is Average Nowadays’.
Ah. Right. Stop riding the inflatable brontosaurs, chant “na-na-na-naaa-NO!” – somewhere out on the long, dark road of promoting their three-million-selling ‘Employment’ debut, a crucial penny has dropped for the Kaisers. Namely, it’s the bands who scowl about Important Issues Of Our Times that achieve longevity or cultural significance (The Clash, The Smiths, U2) while the cheeky, chirpy pop gonks (no matter how monumental their initial sales) tend to flash in the pan. You could knock out the catchiest hooks, but unless you mean something, unless you speak to some corner of your generation’s bruised soul, you’ll be forever tethered like a Comic Relief car nose to your era. Remember Space [Scouse quirkers from Britpop 1]? Precisely.
So, with the spectre of eternal irrelevance hanging over him, Ricky Wilson looks around at society, eager to dissect and encapsulate the very marrow and gristle of Great Britain today. And what does he see? All working class people get pissed every Saturday night and fight each other. All middle class people read The Daily Mail and want to lynch immigrants and paedophiles. And most guitar bands are a bit, y’know, guitary these days. So he exhibits, in the album’s Franz-go-Supergrass keynote political address ‘The Angry Mob’, stereotypical opinions seemingly gleamed from a 10-minute snippet of Have I Got News For You and then doesn’t even have the balls to pass comment on them. Worse still, he tries to relate to the council estate teenagers who buy his records with tales of his own barely-legal glory days like some creepy uncle. “Standing outside nightclubs in the snow/Is not very cool or impressive/They let in all the girls from the year below/Don’t need IDs with those dresses”, sings 29-year-old Ricky on ‘Highroyds’ before recalling a first date with a girl who’s “still got my dinner money”. Imagine Madness’ ‘Baggy Trousers’ with a restraining order.
No, ‘Yours Truly…’ is a much more honest and affecting affair when Ricky ventures inwards… although here, in a crippling case of archetypal Second Album Syndrome, we find a man bewildered and browbeaten by fame. ‘Thank You Very Much’ has him cornered in some dank provincial arena dressing room by a clingy admirer (“Thank you very much/That’s really nice to know/That you enjoyed the show/And I want you to know when to go/’Cos this should be a thrill/But it feels like a drill”), while on ‘Learnt My Lesson Well’ Ricky berates himself for failing to appreciate his quadzillion-platinum lot: “What are you moaning for?/You got all that you want/Life could be worse/You could be a nurse”. The album closes with ‘Retirement’ – a stomping ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’-style carnival spook-pop number in which Ricky wishes he’d invented the wheel, the tumble dryer… anything to let him give up all this rock star malarkey and wander drunk around a trout farm into his dotage “without the man on my back”. Lyrically tired and beaten, it waves us off with a white flag in one hand and a free bus pass application in the other.
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Ironic, since musically Kaiser Chiefs are anything but reaching for the slippers. ‘Yours Truly…’ is a rip-roaring pop record – sprightly, lean and adventurous – a bold leap skyward from ‘Employment’. First single ‘Ruby’ is a delirious pop cartwheel of a love song; ‘Love’s Not A Competition (But I’m Winning)’ ventures beautifully into windswept Smithsian balladry; ‘Try Your Best’ mashes icy Sigur Rós atmospherics into Blur’s ‘This Is A Low’ and album high-point ‘I Can Do It Without You’ is Moz-pop at its most chest-bursting.
Of course their trademark ‘…Riot’-rock goblins run amok on regular occasion (‘Highroyds’, ‘Heat Dies Down’, ‘Everything Is Average Nowadays’), but elsewhere ‘Yours Truly…’ takes confident, stylistic strides towards the status of ‘classic pop’: Madness, Dexys, Blur… the stuff that lasts.
See, what Sombre Ricky has done is mistake sparkle for novelty: Kaiser Chiefs never played on ‘wackiness’, they exhibited charm. There’s glimpses of it here too – in lines like “It’s just seven days/It feels like a week” or in ‘My Kind Of Guy’, a spot-on spoof of The Horrors right down to the Munsters goff guitar stalk. A majestic self-indulgence, then: sheer force of melody will assure ‘Yours Truly…’ a place in history, but next time we’ll be looking to Ricky’s pen to assure the Kaisers’ place in our hearts.