CD Review of Off with Their Heads by Kaiser Chiefs
Recommended if you like
Blur, The Kinks, early Supergrass
Label
Republic/Universal
Kaiser Chiefs:
Off with Their Heads

Reviewed by David Medsker

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W
hat did we do to deserve two Kaiser Chiefs albums in a mere 19 months? That was the normal turnaround time between albums about 25 years ago – and your parents will tell you about the golden days when the Beatles released Rubber Soul, Revolver, and two of their best non-album singles in the span of ten months – but getting a set of musical Irish twins these days is rare. Recently, though, the British bands (Arctic Monkeys, the Feeling, Bloc Party, Hard-Fi) are doing what they can to reduce the gestation period between albums, though in the case of the last Hard-Fi record, a strong case can be made against rushing it. Sadly, the Kaiser Chiefs’ newest album, Off with Their Heads, falls into the same category, and not even the golden touch of producer extraordinaire Mark Ronson can save the day.

The album certainly starts and ends promisingly enough. “Spanish Meal” has some nifty layered vocals in the verses before launching into a “Na Na Na Na Na”-style frenzy, and the pogo-happy “Never Miss a Beat” has one of the most unforgettable vocals in the band’s catalog, proving that five notes go a hell of a lot farther than 20 (“What did you learn at school? / I didn’t go / Why didn’t you go to school? / I don’t know / It’s cool to know nothing”). “Like It Too Much” is this album’s “Oh My God,” with a string section to boot. “Always Happens Like That” has another effortless vocal in the verse, and even channels Adam and the Ants in the chorus (think “Ant Rap”). Lily Allen sings backup too, bringing the Allen/Kaiser love affair full circle after she covered their song “Oh My God” on Ronson’s modern/soul album Version last year. The album’s closer, “Remember You’re a Girl,” features drummer Nick Hodgson on vocals, and while it’s a tad slight, it’s sweet.

Kaiser Chiefs

You can see where Ronson was trying to push the band beyond its boundaries. The scratch rhythm guitar and cowbells on “Addicted to Drugs,” the club-friendly keyboard in “You Want History,” the string finale of “Like It Too Much,” the guest performers like Lily Allen, David Arnold and Sway DaSafo…they’re all nifty touches (well, except DaSafo’s bit), but Ronson seems to be treating the Kaiser Chiefs like they’re his house band, rather than Ronson serving as their producer. The larger problem, though, is that the Chiefs didn’t cook up a batch of songs on par with their first two albums. Several songs are half-great; the chorus to “Tomato in the Rain,” the chorus to “Half the Truth,” the chorus to “Addicted to Drugs”…sense a pattern? Ronson is a hell of an arranger, and while he makes several songs prettier, he doesn’t offer much assistance in making the songs better. One wonders what influence Stephen Street would have had were he sitting in the producer’s chair.

The Kaiser Chiefs will rebound from this – the band is far too much talented to think that their future will consist of diminishing returns from here. Off with Their Heads is a novel experiment, but a little more time in the oven would have worked wonders.

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