Album Review: Kaiser Chiefs – Kaiser Chiefs’ Easy Eighth Album

[V2; 2024]

Twenty years on from the debut of “I Predict A Riot”, Kaiser Chiefs have enjoyed a pretty sustained level of popularity throughout this time (in the British Isles, at least). With an arsenal of infectious hits from their early days that still get plenty of airplay in the present, they’ll draw in crowds as a solid festival headliner, the promise of a nostalgic and feckless good time with their brand of Britpop/pub rock. For one of the bands from the early aughts that certainly got the popular vote (but not the critical one), they’ve survived pretty well. Other bands of a similar ilk may be enjoying reunion tours or have just long-faded from existence, but kudos where it is due: even though the full-frontal ebullience of their early music has some wear and tear, they are still a remarkably listenable (if not reliable) band.

It hasn’t been golden eggs every time though: 2015’s Stay Together was a bonafide glossy pop record that rang queasily hollow; and Education, Education, Education & War was overcooked and tiring, but still had a handful of memorable tracks embedded in the overfraught concept of the record. If their last effort (2019’s Duck) evidenced anything, then it’s that there is still some of the band’s best work in them (even if it was stuck in between some more generic and forgettable outings). Five years on, the question that may first come to mind with regards to Kaiser Chiefs might be ‘Are they still going?!’ And the answer is yes, and that they are still trying to wrestle with the problem of churning out familiar singalong anthems ready for the mass population while also trying to evolve as a band and ultimately stay relevant.

Kaiser Chiefs’ Easy Eighth Album might be named in a tongue-in-cheek manner, but it does come with a certain breeziness to it, an air of unfussed work that certainly doesn’t sound like it took five full years to churn out. Ten tracks and just shy of a half hour long, multiple songs don’t even reach the three minute mark. Easy Eighth is economical for sure, but it does sometimes beg the question as to whether the band are trimming the fat or just knocking out underdeveloped ideas.

A track like “Sentimental Love Songs” is on the better side of proceedings, flashy synths, a zippy chorus, and a small ode to cosy and long-lasting love that doesn’t threaten to overstay its welcome. “Jealousy” does feel like a rehash of earlier material and doesn’t fully explore its concept of flipping excuses on their head (“Cause I don’t do jealousy / But jealousy might do me”), but it is an infectious two minutes that doesn’t ask for much. “Beautiful Girl”, however, with its swooning chorus, is a semi-sweet but forgettable ode to a record player. (If it’s actually about a person then heaven forbid that person find out they have a song which celebrates them being bought “second hand.”) One of the album’s lead singles, “How 2 Dance”, has Stay Together’s fingerprints all over it, a fizzy slice of dance pop that suffers from exuding too much patronising boomer energy. “No one ever taught you how to dance,” lead singer Ricky Wilson shuffles, like a Dad in a club chiding patrons half his age for standing on the sidelines.

Wilson is in strange form across the record, fidgeting to find a comfortable place to settle. He’s self-congratulatory and undeservedly smug on the Nile Rodgers-produced opening track “Feeling Alright”, curiously salacious on the beefy “Reasons To Stay Alive”, and shows off his higher range on the mostly disposable “Noel Groove.” He’s never been the greatest cynic, often overcompensating for a lack of more nuanced lyrics by making big swings at easy targets. Over 20 years his commentary on working class hypocrisy and the unforgiving relentlessness of capitalist society has ranged from tedious (Yours Truly, Angry Mob) to slyly clever (Off With Their Heads). 

On Easy Eighth he tries his hand again, never to particularly exemplary results. “Burning In Flames” explores the trappings of fame (and may well be his try at Neil Young’s famous line), but Wilson reveals his cards (“The stage is a cage”) all too soon while “Reasons To Stay Alive” tackles consumerism and the endless media cycle of bad news. Final track “The Lads” may well be an ode to lasting friendship, but more obviously serves as an indictment of boorish lad culture, Wilson making a sing-along chorus mocking the very people who will proudly sing it. Sure, it’s a stirring and triumphant exit, but again, it’s not particularly deep.

But depth isn’t really synonymous with Kaiser Chiefs; like you don’t go to Taco Bell for fine Mexican cuisine, you don’t listen to the Leeds band with the intent of finding stilling wisdom or sharp barbs that’ll silence a room. Easy Eighth won’t wrangle any new fans, but it certainly gives the band a few more tracks to get crowds shouting along with them in the live circuit. While the album rarely sounds urgent, required, and essential (there’s not a lot here that you would be sad to dip out to go to the toilet or the bar to save you missing out on something on the setlist from Employment), it is a pleasant enough snapshot of Kaiser Chiefs in the present day. 

The band are still trying to dip their toes in new textures and styles too, which helps the album from sounding too one tone. “Burning In Flames” has a disco influence with its sweeping strings while gritty “The Job Centre Shuffle” ropes in London rapper Hak Baker for a ska-infused quagmire that descends into grungy guitars and chanting. It’s not a reinvention (the album feels like a lesser sibling to the Mark Ronson-produced Off With Their Heads), but the band have to be commended for not simply trying to retread the same stuff over and over.

And on retreading the past, in a rare possible self-referential moment, Wilson harks back to the band’s breakout single from 20 years ago. “Tonight I promise we gon’ start a riot,” he flutters on “How 2 Dance”, but as the snipped up guitar riffs usher in a swanky groove, it feels both far off from the rousing energy of “I Predict A Riot” and even further from being any kind of threat for rambunctiousness. “Don’t be scared to fight,” he entreats a few tracks earlier. Is it a call to arms? Maybe, but against who or what is unclear. If Wilson and crew are trying to invoke a riot, then Easy Eighth isn’t the best manifesto – but it does at least fill the time fine enough until they figure out their cause. “We’re only loitering with intent,” he smirks on “Noel Groove.” Two decades on that intent should be crystal clear, but I tell thee, it’s not.