What makes an album an album? You need a fair few songs. There needs to be an obvious sequence to them. Say a big opener and then a hit single, then a second wave, a change of pace, a midway epic. Then you can wiffle about for tracks 6 or 7 or 8 if you like. There’s room to experiment. Side two needs some murkier moments than side one. You can get weird on side two as long as there’s a third single quality tune as long as you finish either ambitious or atmospheric.
Education, Education, Education & War by Kaiser Chiefs is a full on album. It opens with perhaps my favourite of all their songs Factory Gates. I liked it so much it’s what kicked this whole thing off. This would be the first album without the main hit writer and drummer Peanut in the band. Not to worry though. He’s still involved on the team, he’s just doing a side step to studio duties. Making an opening that was filled by powerhouse Vijay Mistry. After the big opener it slides into a later period top 40 single in the form of the slow and atmospheric grown up indie anthem Coming Home. In the video Ricky is dressed in 40’s attire with a busted lip walking past all sorts of Pythonry while he fixes the camera with that cock sure glare while doing a one take surrealist Chris Nolan on a budget single take war movie.
There’s echos of Ashes to Ashes, Echo and The Bunnymen and New Order in this bottling of triumphant ‘not long after the Olympics’ UK spirit made song. It’s also precision designed to fit in around the football coverage on any TV show before we go into some major international tournament. Misery Company was the download only single with dark overtones that animated the pre-album launch. On the record it’s track three.
Meanwhile Up In Heaven follows a couple of tracks later. An equally mature and well crafted single. Smooth, contemplative and happy to be here on Radio 2. Asking Bowie like questions and holding the mic out for the postman to sing along with it’s chorus it’s a joyful moment in their latter day live set.
I’ve skipped over This Is My Life, Ruffians On Parade and One More Last Song not because they’re inferior songs (they’re really not) but because they fill out the album perfectly while we’re really here to talk about the role track eight plays in this albums structure.
Bows and Arrows returned the furrowed brow around the middle of side two. The confrontational sneering at politicians over ner naw guitars brought back the spirit of The Angry Mob from almost a decade previous. The album title is a dig at the New Labour PM Tony Blair. The man who had a chance to really do some good and blew it falling in line with the big machine just like all his predecessors. Here the idea of Bows And Arrows (useless apart, formidable together) being the tools of revolution boiled to the surface beneath this energised indie stomp.
“You and me on the front line, you and me, every time, it’s always you and me, we’re bows and arrows, youuuuuu”
Ohhhs are very important in Kaiser Chiefs world. Even if you don’t know the words to a ‘top 40 but not top 20’ indie hit you can sing along to the Ohhhs. Or in the case the Youuuuus. Chants work too. So the break down of “We the people, created equal” in an arms in the air Green Day Jesus Of Suburbia stylee closely coupled with the more urgent “And if that’s true then we’re not the only ones” makes for a compelling turn of the tune. It’s the opening act in a triptych of songs that close out the record.
Around the big ‘late in side two’ blow out of Cannons things get properly arty-McGarty-rock-prog. Distorted vocal intros and mock jingoistic hollering “We’re gonna need a lot more cannons, if you wanna be home by Christmas” soon descends (or rather ascends) into rock opera character voices and bold keyboard choices. Pink Floyd and Hawkwind would be proud of the moment the music dies down. Battlefield sound effects set the tone for national treasure and well turned out British actor Bill Nighy to read a poetic antiwar ‘play for today’ that echos some of the finest moments of British literature, Including War Poetry, George Orwell & Sir John Betjeman. The Chiefs and Mr Nighy have contributed to a fine tradition of British worsmithery. The Population Of Damnation Eternal acted as a two minute silence in the centenary year of the first world war before they finish the album beautifully with the elegiac piano led Roses.
They opened big, got ambitious and finished grandiose and atmospheric. And lo, it came to pass. The Kaiser Chiefs were a critically acclaimed Albums Band… If they wanted to be.