Are the Kaiser Chiefs the British Strokes? Think about it: both bands wear their influences on their sleeves. Both like to pose. Given the choice between dropping a grand on a new haircut or making this month’s rent, any member of either band would choose the former. And, most crucially, the two bands share the same approach to making rock ‘n’ roll: a mannered school-of-rock formalism that precludes musical invention but results in some gosh-dang engaging tunes.
There’s a song on Employment called “Na Na Na Na Naa,” which pretty much sums up the Kaiser Chiefs’ catchy-at-all-costs ethos. Lyrics aren’t the Chiefs’ prime concern. If a line is catchy, lead lad Ricky Wilson will belt it, whether it’s “na na na na naa” or “I can’t believe once you and me did sex” or “I’ll come back stronger than a powered-up Pac-Man.” You might cringe, but you’ll still sing along.
Which is okay, because there are no bad songs on Employment. There are maybe a couple not-good ones toward the end, but even those are so tightly wound and polished they could end up lodged in your head for days. Best of all, there’s a stretch in the album’s middle that contains no false notes whatsoever. Up-tempo, replete with cheesy synths and cheesier lyrics, the “Oh My God”-“Born to Be a Dancer”-“Saturday Night” trifecta is a humdinger (no, that’s not a Bay City Rollers cover; yes, that would be freakin’ sweet if it were). And hey, “You Can Have It All” (“You can never hold my hand in public/ They can’t know or understand/ That you and me are now together”) isn’t cheesy at all. It’s the best song on the album, and a genuinely moving ballad if you choose to hear it that way.
But that’s the only time the Kaiser Chiefs ever deign to poignancy. It’s foolish to expect consistent emotional content — or any kind of thematic content, really — from a band that makes hooks priority numero uno. So don’t be tricked by the album’s title. Employment is in no way about employment, even if a couple songs hint at class strife and hard times in the workplace. Sure, “I Predict a Riot” describes police brutality and hookers trawling London’s streets, trying to “borrow a pound for a condom.” But the song is too formal and disciplined to serve as a rebel yell. Like the Strokes, the Chiefs would rather evoke (and tacitly accept) their respective urban environment, not turn that environment into their cause.
Besides, what really matters about “I Predict a Riot” is (you guessed it) its hooks, its get-up-and-dance effervescence, its guitars sounding like synths, its synths sounding like guitars, its flawless structure sounding like five British lads kicking off a lucrative career in songwriting.