I’ve been surprised so far, in the first week of the release of the sophomore Kaiser Chiefs album, to find so many negative reviews. Many of them all say the same thing, that Yours Truly, Angry Mob is mild by comparison, lacks the `bad boy’ brashness of its predecessor and fails to live up to the band’s previous singles. It seems that all of these people were taken in by the gimmicks of Employment and not the substance. When I listened to the album for the first time, I found myself immersed in a band that had significant pop strengths. I opted not to focus on the Gallagher-esque bad boy image that the UK papers would have you believe, instead embracing melody, harmony and songwriting. Sure, “Oh My God” and “I Predict a Riot” were Weller-fueled pub jams, but “Modern Way” paved the road for Yours Truly, a significant step forward for the Chiefs. What we have in this follow-up album is a collection of songs worthy to stand alongside some of Squeeze’s best singles, a Split Enz greatest hits collection or a jukebox full of XTC.
What’s a bunch of likely lads to do in order to follow up a slightly `in-your-face’ hit pop album like Employment? Well, the first order of business is to bring back über-Britpop producer Stephen Street. Street manages to pull off what he he’s done for artists like Morrissey and Blur, namely to take an already established act and ramp it up, not in the idea of `more is better,’ but rather by eliciting better vocal performance and creating more of a lush soundscape. “Ruby” is the first single and first track on the album, packing in all the requisite hooks and an infectious sing-along chorus. Already, with this song, one can hear that frontman Ricky Wilson’s vocals have stepped up quite a bit. Despite all of the posturing that came along with the first record, Wilson proves that he really can sing. The ending sing-along of “The Angry Mob” even outdoes that introductory chorus with more energy and a tongue-in-cheek set of lyrics.
The real evidence of a newly found maturity in songwriting occurs in the elegantly stripped-down “Love’s Not a Competition, But I’m Winning.” Think of this track as not just a worthy successor to “Modern Way,” but also as a fine companion on a mix CD to the Church’s “Under the Milky Way” and Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer.” This is where the Chiefs truly shine on Yours Truly, and where Street’s guiding hand is most evident. Although it’s not a single…yet, expect this song to be a fan favorite, appearing on iPod playlists everywhere. It’s one of the shorter tracks, without an overabundance of lyrics, but therein lies the charm. Meanwhile, tracks like “Thank You Very Much” and “Highroyds” bring back the Jam meets Blur Anglophilic intensity with great success. The guitar squeals in the bridge of the former track sound like they could have fit in very nicely on Parklife.
“I Can Do It Without You” is a harmonic highlight with self-conscious lyrics that recall the great combo of Difford and Tillbrook. “My Kind of Guy” makes slight reference to a much-publicized accident involving Wilson. The song depicts a bicycle accident, but it’s hard not to compare it to the one in which Wilson was hit by a car while crossing a street, smacked in the shins, hitting the windshield, then landing on his knees on the other end. For a while, Wilson was afraid, thanks to his oh-so-optimistic doctors that he might have to lose a leg, but he recovered. The lyrics delve into the depression and helplessness associated with the recovery, but Wilson also likens himself to the titular `guy,’ by saying “you sound as horrible as me.” After hearing the vocals on Yours Truly, I’m inclined to disagree. The US version of the album actually removes one track from the UK listing, that being the one and a half minute “Boxing Champ,” which I urge US listeners to find, packing a lot of lyrical beauty into a very small package.
So, Graham Coxon may or may not return to the fold of his former band, but at least the Kaiser Chiefs are picking up nicely where Albarn and his cohorts left off before making animated disco hits and creepy, Clash and Specials-like portraits of London. I’m not sure when British power pop became passé to most critics, but the Chiefs have certainly ensorcelled this fan with Yours Truly, Angry Mob, a love letter with cheek, irony and hooks to keep you dancing for days. Listening to this album will once again make you feel that great pop music is cool for cats.
Squeeze- Singles: 45’s and Under
Split Enz- History Never Repeats: The Best of Split Enz