Bloody typical! Kaiser Chief’s best album is their poorest selling. 2011’s Future Is Medieval was the band’s fourth album. In America it was entitled (oddly) Start the Revolution Without Me with changes in the songs selected and their running order. It seems that, behind the scenes, elements in the record company were shitting bricks. Or maybe this was just a record company ploy to sell two albums to every American fan.
Perhaps they were simply worried about too much variety on one disc and the problems this creates in doing the album justice every night in live shows – the main means of promoting sales. After all the Beatles would have had a hell of a time recreating Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band live every night, which is why they didn't bother, retiring from touring before then. This album, however, can be likened to Sergeant Pepper’s – a culmination of creativity, but without the willful eclecticism of the Beatles record.
It was obvious that when the Kaiser Chiefs came to record it – a lengthy process apparently – they were ready for a change from their usual amped-up, chanty indie rock (with irony), and ready to create something more aurally diverse and challenging.
In terms of aural amplitude, the canvas is wider; in terms of energy, there are more peaks and valleys, giving the impression of a landscape carved by much greater forces than the merely blustery wind that blows over a high plateau.
Kinda Girl You Are is the kind of rambunctious, snarky song that wouldn't be out of place on any of their other albums, but here, rather than being typical, it is used to set the scene for more transcendent tracks, like the spaced-out yet soaring Man on Mars and then the Pink Floydish (Syd Barret era) Child of the Jago, showing a strong understanding of song-on-song album dynamics.
This group of songs comes after the half-way mark, but by that time, we have already experienced a lot, from opener Little Shocks, which skillfully balances a growly and searing guitar on top of what sounds like a skeleton’s xylophone riff, the reggae/punk to-and-froing of Long Way from Celebrating, and the Bowiesque funk of Things Change – yes, Tony Visconti was actually in the room as one of the producers.
The use of delicate pop, funked and ska-ed rhythms, with rich rockist flourishes, and a few tricks from Bowie and Floyd, gives the band a rich palette to paint from, meaning that things never get boring, even on weaker songs like Heard It Break and Coming Up for Air, which still manage to delight due to their complementary differences.
On this album, the Chiefs finally realized their full potential, so it is sad to see that the following year chief songwriter Nick Hodgson left, pushing the band to revert to a more clichéd, blusterier and chugging version of themselves on follow-up album Education, Education, Education And War, which, however, did better in the charts than this masterpiece.