Sunday, April 8, 2012

Kaiser Chiefs: Off With Their Heads

There didn't used to need to be a reason. When I was a kid grabbing whatever music wandered past me (or did the music grab me?) I didn't think much about why. There wasn't a social or artistic component. There were simply things I wanted to hear over and over, and things I never wanted to hear again. It was only later that I started trying to figure out why, which led at first to listening to nothing, and now to listening to... well, not everything, but a lot.

Once you start trying to look at the big picture, you risk losing a lot of that intuitive joy. There's no way for me to explain the awestruck glee I have when I listen to Kaiser Chiefs' Off With Their Heads. They dive in headfirst and start rocking out and don't let up for 11 tracks. There's simply no accounting for why the "Girls start moving, the boys join in" refrain in "You Want History" is so brilliant, only that it is. With a busy, electric sound, every track on the album as something going on that makes you wanna move, makes you wanna keep going.

The album remains consistent without ever retreating itself. There's a languid flow on the opener "Spanish Metal" and "You Like It Too Much," but the former puts sweet harmonies between rough fuzzy guitar breaks, while the latter is a bit stiffer in its steady beat, with a rolling piano (and strings?) beneath. The band has a humorous way of puffing themselves up on songs like this, leading to a soaring chorus. There's the motor-mouthed "Can't Say What I Mean," and the breathless "Half the Truth," which is a fair bit more tense. "Good Days Bad Days" has a peppy stomp, built on a nearly Beatlesque playground prechorus. There's also the call-and-answer of "Never Miss a Beat," which adds a wicked synth flourish under its title phrase, underscoring the sarcastic celebration of its lyrical subjects (useless teens) lifting it into faux-gospel.

The band is very much working in a retro-80s dance, like post-Franz or Killers, with a bit of Arctic Monkeys (perhaps because they've left the accents in.) Most of the tracks are really busy, but "Tomato in the Rain" is a lovely bit of throwback pop for a lazy afternoon. There's also the earnest closer, "Remember You're a Girl," which nearly seems to be the work of a different band. Well, this was also the band that gave us the marvelous Britpop "Ruby" on their previous album. Nothing here sounds like that, which was ballsy, and since everything works, it pays off. The album is really based around the confidence to keep moving, that their music is so good that all the choices they make are the right ones.

Off With Their Heads is definitely all-conquering rock, and I don't need to tell you why, if you can listen to it and like it. The whole album feels almost intuitive, like as soon as they touched their instruments this was the result. But all the many elements are in place, from wicked danceable rhythms and exuberant guitars, to clever lyrics sung with a commitment to a raucous good time. It must have taken a good deal of work and refinement. Still, the result is so immediate that it defies criticism: it's there for those who like it. An album like this doesn't need to be studied, just enjoyed.

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