Two years ago - armed with an anthemic selection of Britpop throwbacks and dressed like the love-children of Ronald McDonald and a west-country scarecrow - the Kaiser Chiefs ruled the land. From humble toilet stops in the nation’s finest Barflys to opening the American edition of Live 8, it was an epic rise that hadn’t been seen since, well, Britpop. If you didn’t ‘get it’ you weren’t in luck either because it was inescapable. If it wasn’t 50,000 people repeating the lines ‘I predict a riot…III predict a riot’ in worship to the band playing before them, then it was 50,000 people chanting them from the terraces as ‘motivating’ ode to their beloved football team. Equally as excited, lager infused choral societies in pubs nationwide finally prized their decade old copy of ‘Definitely Maybe’ out of the CD player because suddenly there was a new hymn sheet to sing from, and promptly, worship at the feet of.
Well now, the band who reminded us of the sound of British music, the Kaiser’s Chiefs are back - bigger, bolder and, er, blacker. That’s right, the first thing you notice about this new era in the Chiefs’ history is that - in the same vein as The Killer’s and other ex-classmates from the ‘class of 2004’ - the Kaiser Chiefs have toned down. Indeed, as Nick ‘Peanut’ Baines, the band’s keyboardist explains, you’re more likely to find Ricky Wilson’s circus jackets - and anything else that made the band appear to be just a Britpop ‘novelty’ act - in a Leeds charity shop as opposed to their tour wardrobe now. “I looked at some recent photo shoots and there are a lot of jackets and black trousers and shoes and things,” he adds. “I guess it’s a bit of a rebellion against being typified as this kind of novelty wearing band with the hats and the stripy blazers.”
The initial reason for the Kaiser’s rainbow coloured wardrobe was a lot more sinister and business-like, than merely just a way to get in touch with their closet feminine side. The reality was that after years of plugging away in dead-end bar jobs it provided an unforgettable way for the five Leeds lads to finally get noticed. “There is part of me that thinks that we were looking for attention, and looking to get noticed as a band,” Peanut explains. “It’s very difficult to do when you’re a support band for anyone to actually remember you, never mind your songs. But we struck a chord with people quite quickly with our image.” One thing that was always certain to them however was that they were going to make it. “We never really considered, well obviously we realised that we had to live but it wasn’t like, ‘I’ve got to do this so it can be my living,’ it was just, ‘I’ve got to find a crappy office job so that I can take a day off to go to London and do a gig so that we can get a record deal and I don’t have to work anymore.’”
Indeed, if there’s a band who prove that perseverance pays dividends then it’s probably t’Chiefs. When they finally snatched that allusive record deal - as 2.8 million sales of their debut album to date proves – they didn’t exactly squander the opportunity they’d worked for. It’s understandable then that they choose to attack the albums follow-up - ‘Yours Truly, Angry Mob’ - with the same vigour.
Recorded throughout the most of last year, ‘Yours Truly…’ picks up from where Employment literally took off. Peanut is keen to point out, however, that it’s more representative of Employment, the live “heavier” rock show, as opposed to 'Employment' the album. Packed with big, yet this time more percussive sounding hits, it’s certainly everything we should expect a Kaiser Chiefs album to sound like in 2007 – especially after two years on the road playing to more and more worshipers every night. “It feels like a very, very natural progression,” Peanut confesses. “You want to evolve as a band; it’s healthy to evolve as a band. We’re glad that people do see it as a departure but without losing what we were good at which is writing catchy songs and lyrical choruses and putting on a live show that’s full of energy – that’s all still in there.”
Certainly the raw, live energy of ‘I Predict A Riot’ flows like blood through ‘Highroyds,’ while ‘Heat Dies Down,’ is an up to date twist of the haunting sculpture that was ‘Modern Way.’ However, unlike their debut, it’s not all foot-to-the-floor. Was there a conscious effort to prove to the doubters that they do actually possess some musical versatility? “Yeah. With Employment there wasn’t really any kind of slowish tracks except for ‘Team Mate’ at the end. There’s nothing like ‘Try Your Best,’ on there and kind of like at the end of ‘My Kind Of Guy,’ when it carries on a bit.” He’s keen to add, however, with a wry laugh, that this balladry isn’t going to take over. “Still we’re keeping check, and not letting it go so over board that songs are reaching over eight or nine minutes long or anything like that.”
Like many of their second album contemporaries, the Kaisers retreated back to their roots to seek lyrical and recording inspiration for ‘Yours Truly…’ Consequently, therefore, lyrically the album is a contrast of the band choking in the stench of the mainstream spotlight, “We are the angry mob, we read the papers everyday/we like who we like, we hate who we hate/and we’re all so easily swayed” riots Wilson on ‘Angry Mob,’ as well as a record that recalls drunken teenage memoirs and hangouts (‘Highroyds’). Peanut admits, there was no real lyrical incentive or pressure to portray the bands growing exposure, but it just naturally came out in some songs. “There’s a real mixture on there, it’s not kind of one cynical take of how bad it is, but obviously in a song like ‘So Everything Is Average Nowadays’ then yeah, clearly we are saying that everything is average nowadays,” after laughing at his confession he adds. “It wasn’t an objective but obviously you read one little thing and it becomes the inspiration and a theme for a song and it develops from there and you sculpt the lyrics around it.”
You wouldn’t have blamed the Chiefs if their objective with ‘Yours Truly…’ had been to create an album of public retribution against their media hunters, however. They’ve never exactly been far away from a negative Gallagher jibe or able to avoid a comment about their ‘outlandish’ stage attire. What’s always been constant is an ability to divide opinion like no band around. Are they bothered? “We don’t mind it. I don’t think we have any sort of lukewarm fans. You either really love us and are so ecstatically pleased when we go on stage or you kind of don’t want to bother about us at all really. Which suits us fine; we’ve got plenty of fans.”
Their unbridled commercial success has unsurprisingly left the band as a sitting duck for up-and-coming bands searching for a quick publicity boost. Don’t think comments courtesy of The View and the Arctic Monkeys have gone unnoticed either. “We are an easy target because nobody ever slags off a small band because you’re not going to get noticed by the press are you? Of course, you slag off someone who’s doing well because obviously you’re being a lot more outrageous in your comments aren’t you?” It’s certainly an answer which is verging on the phrase ‘veteran response.’ Surely, although they’re now all pushing thirty, it’s not quite time to hang up the desire to bite back? Thankfully - no. It seems that the Chiefs didn’t completely dispose of their sarcastic charisma when the stripy jackets hit the doorstep at Oxfam. “You realise that it’s all one big game but unfortunately the bands that choose to slag us off are taking it far too seriously. It’d be better if they were writing better songs than us but they’re not so they can shut up.”
Does the need for bands to use them to get noticed disappoint them? “It doesn’t disappoint me. It’s not as if I’m hurt or lying awake at night or anything like that you know? It amuses me because it’s so transparent, so see-through what they’re doing that you’re like ‘well I can see clearly what your doing, I know now that I’m not to believe a word you’re saying and we’ll get on with what we’re doing and you get back to packing shelves in supermarkets again.”
And so with that subtle dig it seems the Kaiser Chiefs – the band that everyone hates to love/loves to hate - are back. Although this time they’re without the novelty retro gear, they’re still firmly in possession of the charismatic music to make the masses open their lungs and sing along in harmony once again. And you just know that from Doncaster to Denver everyone probably will be as well.