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Monday, 22 October 2012

Kaiser Chiefs - Employment (2005)

When I first moved to Leeds I was immediately struck by the vibrancy of its music scene. I had been living in Newcastle-under-Lyme near Stoke-on-Trent for the four years previous and had got pretty disheartened with the extent of the Potteries’ music scene, which seemed to consist of bad Korn-a-like metal bands playing at the Rigger on a Saturday night, or C-list Britpop bands like the Bluetones and Shed Seven playing at the Sugarmill on one of their endless farewell tours. It was a depressing place to live if you were a music fan.

Leeds was different. It may have just been timing, but it seemed that Leeds was at the start of an indie renaissance. Bands like O Fracas, the Pigeon Detectives, the Sunshine Underground, ¡Forward, Russia! and Middleman seemed fresh and exciting. Perhaps it was the difference between a sleepy market town and a city, but I felt like the Leeds music scene was exhilarating and inspiring to be around. I would go to gigs at the Brudenell Social Club and see amazing local bands bursting with potential; the dank railway tunnel that was the Blank Canvas to see larger bands; or see hardcore bands setting up DIY gigs in the attics of smoke-filled pubs. It was awesome, and I loved it.

One band from this period that broke through to the mainstream, and for a while saw Leeds as something of an incubation unit for the UK indie scene, was the Kaiser Chiefs. I first heard the Kaiser Chiefs during a music quiz at the Cockpit in Leeds – we came second. During the quiz, they kept playing ‘Na Na Na Na Na’ by the Kaiser Chiefs, which had not yet been released. It was a song that grabbed your attention, and over the coming weeks and months you couldn’t go to a bar or club night in Leeds without hearing it. Other songs began to filter in too: ‘Everyday I Love You Less and Less’, ‘Oh My God’ and the now anthemic ‘I Predict a Riot’ were almost guaranteed plays on any given night out. They were exciting, and the made Leeds feel like a cool place to live.

On its release, I purchased Employment from Crash Records in Leeds (I remember it was a pound cheaper in there than in Jumbo), and I was quite disappointed by what I heard. Outside of the context of a drunken night out with friends, the songs sounded derivative and cheesy, and the laddish vocal style of singer Ricky Wilson quickly became quite grating and I haven’t bothered to listen to Employment since.

I remember hearing Ricky in an interview on the radio once, and he was talking about his favourite pub in Leeds: The Original Oak in Headingley. For those of you not familiar with The Original Oak in Leeds, imagine a packed-out, sweaty pub that is full of students; horrible music is played over Sky Sports at ungodly volumes; a lot of its patrons must suffer with terrible migraines as there are always people wearing sunglasses indoors – the place is an insufferable shit-hole that has the reputation amongst those who don’t know any better for being a cool place to drink. It is perhaps of little surprise that Ricky would choose such a place as his favourite drinking haunt, as there are some quite striking similarities between the Original Oak and the Kaiser Chiefs in that they both lack any semblance of soul or personality beyond the superficial.

Employment opens with ‘Everyday I Love You Less and Less’ (surely that should be ‘Every Day’?), a song which takes me back to those early days in Leeds as an MA student trying to find my feet in a new city and not really knowing anyone apart from a friend from school who was also studying at the university. It’s an incredibly catchy song with its driving bass and sing-along sections that peak with long belts of “ooooooohhhh” that sound so good when you’re dancing with a pint in your hand and everyone is going “ooooooohhhh” around you, but just feel forced and atonal on record. ‘I Predict a Riot’ has been adopted on the football terraces and by groups of hooded youths and other hoodlums as a call to arms. It’s exactly the same thing that happened to Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ – a song critical of America that became the anthem of flag-waving American patriots who couldn’t be bothered to listen to the verse. ‘I Predict a Riot’ is not a song about violence or rioting, it’s a song about an agrophobic who gets frightened when he stands in a taxi rank or sees someone wearing a tracksuit – a great subject for laddish indie rock and roll, you’ll have to agree. What happened to “I’m feeling supersonic, give me gin and tonic”? This being said, the music is very good in this song: the opening riff is awesome and the chorus is perfect for singing at the top of your voice. Again, we have more blasts of “ooooooohhhh” during the song that can’t help but remind me of the Toy Dolls’ daft punk rendition of ‘Nellie the Elephant’. ‘Modern Way’ is instantly forgettable. ‘Na Na Na Na Na’ sounds like something Supergrass might have produced: it’s urgent and electrifying, but Wilson’s pronunciation of the “T” in the word “listen” I find incredibly annoying. ‘You Can Have it All’ is another forgettable track that feels like the worst kind of album-filler: it’s cheesy, boring, and adds nothing apart from minutes to the album. ‘Oh My God’ sounds surprisingly good, with its bouncy verse and massive rock chorus. I like this song much more than I remembered until we were treated to another barrage of “ooooooohhhh”s. ‘Saturday Night’ sounds like Blur at their most obnoxious, whilst ‘What Did I Ever Give You?’ sounds like Blur at their dullest. ‘Time Honoured Tradition’ sounds a little bit too much like ‘Yo Ho Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)’, and makes you reach for the skip button before the first verse has finished, but I stuck with it and hated myself just that little bit more for doing so. Album-closer ‘Team Mate’ again sounds like something Blur would do; it reminds me of one of the joke songs on Parklife with their Blackpool organs and whispered vocals.

Revisiting this album has only confirmed how I originally felt back when I bought it, that it is simply not a very good album. Employment will be taking a long-overdue trip to the charity shop and hopefully raise a couple of quid for Scope.

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MrColinCox said...

"It was a depressing place to live if you were a music fan."

Or just in general.

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