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Kaiser Chiefs

Employment
Yahoo Music (March 2005)

It’s common for bands to grow up in public these days, but rarely in the space of a single record. "Employment" starts off firmly entrenched in 2005’s third division of indie, strutting like The Ordinary Boys dosed-up on second-hand power pop and teenage urgency, but as the album progresses the Leeds five-piece slowly blossom into a classic (yet entirely contemporary) Britpop band. You keep waiting for them to slip up, to tumble back into the dumb power pop rut, and it just doesn’t happen. They develop, mutate, and swell in confidence until you’re faced with the last thing you expected - finally, a worthy successor to Blur.

The reference points are Britpop’s more mature, reflective moments. There are touches of "Modern Life Is Rubbish" in here, when the reinvention was fresh and the temptation to polish off the edges and rack up the emotions for the mainstream was still an album away. There’s even more of "In It For The Money", the feeling that a band have left quirky high jinks behind (even if it is four tracks behind) for a less obvious, more artistically worthwhile take on melodic pop. During the heady melee of Cool Britannia, it was easy to dismiss Supergrass for being not damn significant enough, but the young (embryonic?) Kaiser Chiefs were clearly drinking it all in.

It starts with track three, "Modern Way". Singer Ricky Wilson drops the slightly yobbish attitude of the two opening songs for a cooler croon that could be Damon Albarn on the cusp of setting an agenda, while the band (with the help of producer Stephen Street, naturally) focus on subtle, serious pop that feels vibrant and young without ever being self-consciously so. "You Can Have It All" is a coolly paced delight, a sweet sigh over clandestine love that neatly answers the question of what Britpop would have sounded like if it had been headed by a chart-straddling Super Furry Animals. "What Did I Ever Give You?" is a sharp singalong gem, lithe and a little cheeky, while "Caroline, Yes" sounds destined for stadiums, all slight harmonies and grand vision.

Not that the band neglect the dance floor, mind you. Indie circa 04/05 relies on a few sledgehammer tricks to get the clubs hopping and "Entertainment" manages to blend the Chiefs' canny take on guitar pop with contemporary needs without losing any of its style or dignity. "Saturday Night" could be Blur playing at being The Fall, street suss and handclaps delivered with a glam tongue stuck in its blushing cheek. The superbly titled "Na Na Na Na Naa", meanwhile, is buzzing and relentless, Supergrass-flavoured nonsense that whips past in a Technicolor blur. It’s almost as if Wilson and co have tried to release a debut packed entirely with single-worthy tunes. They don’t quite manage it, of course, but the intent is enough to raise them head and shoulders above.

Every year, wizened music biz commentators try to predict who will be this year’s Hit Of The Festivals - the band that start off as promising newcomers and end up as all-conquering heroes. In the more mainstream world, 2005’s model will probably be Athlete, but in indiedom, the game is still open. You’d bet on The Bravery cleaning-up with their comedic art rock take on the Eighties, but something about the slow-burning yet irresistible charm of this album suggests that five cool scamps from Leeds might yet walk off with the year. A classic British debut..


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Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London


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