Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Review of Kaiser Chiefs' "Stay Together"

I posted the following album review on the Sputnik Music website a little earlier this afternoon:

I've never made any bones about it -- The Kaiser Chiefs' 2005 debut Employment is one of my favorite albums of the millennium. The band's sense of fun, and their ability to craft strong alt-pop singles such as "I Predict a Riot" and "Everyday I Love You and Less" led me to believe that this was going to be one of the bigger bands of the 21st Century. Sadly, it hasn't worked out that way. 2007's Yours Truly, Angry Mob was a letdown, and most of their work since then has been middling at best -- always good enough to keep me buying their music, but nowhere near the quality of that first album.

Stay Together (2016) doesn't quite reach the high bar set by Employment, but it's a step in the right direction. This is mainly due to two factors: 1) The band has chosen to fill the LP with songs of more personal (and accessible) subject matter than on some of their more recent efforts. Sex, love and relationships are the topics of the day here. More importantly, 2) They've infused the music on this album with disco and other dance music elements. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a huge fan of dance music as such -- but blended together with The Kaiser Chiefs' adept pop sensibilities, it works pretty well. I wouldn't have guessed it, but maybe a quick injection of 1970s Bee Gees was just what this band needed to freshen up their sound.

A number of the tracks stand out for me. I especially like "Indoor Firework". The verses are bass driven and stealthy, punctuated by little bursts of strummed guitar, and there's a yearning to the choruses that I find gripping. "Good Clean Fun" is another really good one. This is a droll song about an unhealthy-if-fervent relationship with a chorus that exemplifies the concept of the clueless male: "Why are you so mad"/Sex makes everything better". I'm also fond of "Parachute", the album's lead single. It's a catchy little number, even if I'd have to admit there's nothing especially unique about it.

In fairness, Stay Together hasn't exactly been universally acclaimed. It hasn't sold as well as 2014's mediocre Education, Education, Education & War, and the reviews overall have been mixed -- Metacritic only rates it at 59/100, and on this site, it's the band's lowest user-rated album to date, scoring only 2.2 out of 5 stars. However, I'd argue that its score on Sputnik is more indicative of the musical leanings of the average Sputnik User than it is of the quality of the music, and that the LP hasn't caught on with the band's usual base because it's a change of direction for them. The problem isn't that Stay Together is a bad album -- it's a good album that hasn't fully found its audience, that audience being people who enjoy dance-oriented alternative pop. 

So Brit pop fans, 80s club kids, lovers of English new wave and 70s disco, come one and come all. Stay Together will get you moving and keep you smiling at the same time. It's not typical Kaiser Chiefs by any means, but it is the best and the freshest LP this band has released in a number of years.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars