All British music fans know where Liverpool is. A vast majority can locate Manchester. But how many can spot Leeds? Just a tad bit Northeast from those two cities, Leeds has spawned a few bands and artists that are noteworthy, namely the Mission U.K., the Sisters of Mercy, Soft Cell, Gang of Four and, most recently, Hood and a band that is about to explode — a band named after a South African soccer team called Kaiser Chiefs. The British tabloid music magazines are eating them up, as well as the fans, and America is sure to begin showing its appreciation soon, as it did for other imports such as Franz Ferdinand, Snow Patrol and the rest of the massive Brit music movement that seems to be sweeping our shores.
The really scary thing about the music coming out of the UK right now is that all of it seems to be really freakin’ good. From the Futureheads to Bloc Party, then to Kasabian and now Kaiser Chiefs, British music is seeing a renaissance. The unifying thread with all of these new bands seems to be a respect and wistfulness for the country’s musical past. References to the Jam, Gang of Four, Blur, the Clash, Roxy Music, and Madness seem to spring up out of the bands’ mouths as often as their songs. Not to mention the fact that all of the above mentioned bands have been written in relation to just one band, Kaiser Chiefs.
Employment saw a bidding war in the states, finally won out by Universal. Why the fervor? It was all based on the strength of the band’s second single, “I Predict a Riot.” The first single was “Oh My God,” released in limited quantity, which was just re-released and reached number six on the UK charts in its first week. “I Predict a Riot” is a song which truly channels Paul Weller. One could place this song within the album In the City and some might not blink. But they do add their own flair with the echoed vocals, the ska-like keyboards, and the perfectly polished `la-la-la’s. It’s one of the best singles of the year (I can say this year, because it was released late last year in the UK) and I’m sure could easily end up on end of the year song lists.
Even with the manic energy of “I Predict a Riot,” there are plenty of other songs on Employment that will equally catch your attention. “Modern Way” is one of those special songs. Lead singer Ricky Wilson, sure to rival Alex Kapranos as the art school rock poster boy and party starter extraordinaire, sings in his Leedsian accent, sounding quite a bit like Damon Albarn or Glenn Tillbrook. “Na Na Na Na Naa” is the song which opens the Chiefs’ live sets and is a sure foot tapper. The song has everything, from falsetto harmonies, to rocking boogie woogie piano, and searing fuzz guitars.
“You Can Have it All” is a beautifully written and sung tune about having no money and a failed relationship. Nothing recalls the glory of Parklife like this song and the one right after, “Oh My God.” Being that I’ve never been to England, I don’t know how accurate this next statement will be, but this song simply shouts ‘Britain’ to me. If the nineties British music scene were a play, out of the new batch of English bands, Kaiser Chiefs would play the dual role of Pulp and Blur, the natty art school kids who do it their own way, craft perfect pop tunes, and even rival the hooligans rocking in the next town over. Über producer of the moment, Stephen Street, after already compiling a hefty résumé with the Smiths and Blur, quickly signed on to helm the Chiefs’ first effort and yes, it can stand alongside the best of his work. After coming off the brilliant production of Graham Coxon’s last solo outing (Coxon even appears in Employment, revving his motorcycle at the intro to the song, “Saturday Night”), Street once again proves he’s the best in the business by making the Kaiser Chiefs’ debut album a steady dose of British rock, pop, history, and all-out enjoyment. Maybe that’s what the album should have been called!