Release Date: Oct 28, 2008
Record label: Motown
Chiefs’ latest glitters more than “Ruby”On Off With Their Heads, Kaiser Chiefs finally live up to their early promise. They’re no longer complaining about fame,—like on 2007’s urbane and rather mean-spirited Yours Truly, Angry Mob—or crafting fussy overwrought melodies that sound like stilted refugees from the ’80s’ New Romantics—or worse, Blur’s middle period. With the help of über-producer Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse), the Chiefs have lopped off more than their heads, shedding a musical fat suit, stripping their sound to its laddish basics and recalling a time before Britpop was a dirty word.
In which The Likely Lads who became The Angry Mob mutate into The Fab Five: Off With Their Heads is Kaiser Chiefs discovering a sense of adventure. 'Like it Too Much' twins gothic synths with symphonic brush-strokes courtesy of Bond arranger David Arnold, while 'Half the Truth' mixes psychedelic organ with rapper Sway – an improbable combination but one they pull off, just. There's more experimentalism on 'Addicted to Drugs', which fuses verses that recall Big Audio Dynamite's 'Medicine Show' to a chorus that paraphrases Robert Palmer's 'Addicted to Love'.
Of course, all the creative production and guest stars Ronson offers wouldn't mean anything if the Kaiser Chiefs' songwriting wasn't focused, but Off with Their Heads delivers on this front too. The band rails against stupidity and conformity like they did on Yours Truly, Angry Mob, but this time they know that while it's smart to be witty, it's even smarter to be insidiously catchy. The band's commentary is fused to some of their most pointed hooks: "Never Miss a Beat" rails against how "it's cool to know nothing" to a fittingly relentless rhythm.
This summer, Mark Ronson brightly told us that Kaiser Chiefs' new album, their third in four years and the first on his watch, sounded like Talking Heads locking horns with ELO. On paper, how marvellous. On record, Off With Their Heads is more football chant schmindie, with only the briefest of diversions up Psycho Rock Avenue. There are more casual limb-jerkers (the bunking-off-school tale of Never Miss a Beat; the raucous Can't Say What I Mean) and many barrow-boy shout-a-longs (the dull Good Days Bad Days, the much jauntier Always Happens Like That, with Lily Allen on backing vocals).
With hot shot transatlantic producer Mark Ronson tapped for production on the Leeds lads' third album, it would be fair to expect plenty of brass and brash courtesy of the soul/R&B revivalist. But that's not the case on Off With Their Heads. Both parties seem determined to defy the Chiefs' usual stadium Britpop formulas. Admirable of them not to take the smoothly paved road to radio readiness and try something different, incorporating British 60s (Can't Say What I Mean), Happy Mondays Madchester (Good Days Bad Days) and 70s singer/songwriter terrain on Remember You're A Girl, the album's closing and most affecting track, among other gambits.