Kaiser Chiefs – 'Education, Education, Education & War' album review

Ricky Wilson's indie troupe sound bigger than ever, and it doesn't really suit them



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Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5

It has been a very long time since Leeds heroes Kaiser Chiefs were acquainted with the zeitgeist, their stock having been largely wiped out during the great landfill indie crash of ’09-ish, their chief songwriter Nick Hodgson having recently bailed. But things are looking up: frontman Ricky Wilson has wangled himself a plum gig as a mentor on BBC’s ‘The Voice’, the newly slimline 36-year-old now standing as the unlikely the voice of youth on a panel consisting of the going-on-middle-aged (Will.i.am, Kylie) and the aged (Tom Jones).

So this is a really, really good time to release a new Kaiser Chiefs album. To some extent, and despite the personnel change, ‘Education, Education, Education & War’ is business as usual: relentlessly tuneful, endearingly gauche, proudly proletarian…  even the title is a dig at the Blair government of the band’s heyday.
And opener ‘Factory Gates’ is a solid ‘ta-da – we’re back!’ moment, swishing in on an imperious wiggle of keys with Wilson in full-on bellow mode as he roars about the cruelty of the weekly grind like an aggrieved bull elephant. But there’s something weird about that bullishness – something a bit… metal? Which is fine: it’s a pretty angry song and the extra brutality gives it some heft.

But when we advance to track two, ‘Coming Home’, and it crowns out in a Slash-alike guitar lick, alarm bells start to ring. Then we reach ‘Misery Company’, which goes from endearingly eccentric beginnings to full on cock-rock bluster.
Okay, ‘EEEW’ (unfortunate acronym there) is not quite the Kaisers’ hair metal album: the music is largely synth-based pop in an indie mould. But there’s just something disconcertingly big about it all. Wilson rarely misses the opportunity to roar when he might once have sang, guitarist Andrew White’s riffier moments are relentlessly inappropriate, and this once nimble band find it disarmingly hard to finish a song in less than five minutes.

More than anything, this all conspires to make the music feel distant. Producer Ben H Allen has worked with Animal Collective and Deerhunter, but seems incapable of replicating those bands’ ethereal subtleties here, and moments that should be intimate and easy feel strained and blustering.
'Education…' is fine, really: if you’re in the market for old-fashioned indie pop-rock, you’re unlikely to be aggrieved. It’s just a bit disconcerting, like bumping into an old friend who’s become weirdly hench since you last saw them. Tuneful, but not charming.

What do you think of ‘Education, Education, Education & War’? Let us know in the comments box below or tweet us at @TimeOutMusic.

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Watch the video for 'Coming Home'

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