Album: Kaiser Chiefs

Employment, B-UNIQUE
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From the opening synth-stutter of "Everyday I Love You Less And Less", Employment has the swagger and momentum of a genuine pop classic, stuffed full of smart, catchy songs played with a confidence and brio not encountered since the Blur/Oasis wars.

From the opening synth-stutter of "Everyday I Love You Less And Less", Employment has the swagger and momentum of a genuine pop classic, stuffed full of smart, catchy songs played with a confidence and brio not encountered since the Blur/Oasis wars.

Kaiser Chiefs draw their inspiration from Britain's pop heritage, though more from the clever-dick fringes of '70s pop than the commercial mainstream: when Ricky Wilson sings the sly aside "Oh yes, I'm stressed, I'm sorry, I digressed" on the opening track, it could be Andy Partridge fronting XTC; elsewhere, distinct 10cc tendencies course through "I Predict a Riot", while "Saturday Night" could be the Blur of "Girls And Boys" doing a gloss on "Suffragette City". Most impressive of all, Wilson brings his best Robert Wyatt impression to the closing "Team Mate", where sparse piano and organ underscore the genuinely moving account of a couple who find themselves gradually estranged from their former friends, but ultimately no closer to each other. Clearly, the Kaiser Chiefs have large record collections, and a big enough talent to reassemble bits of them in entertaining new ways.

Their songs are short, sharp musings on modern mores - from the disillusion with metropolitan culture in "Born to Be a Dancer" to the scary binge-drinker gauntlet run in "I Predict a Riot". Character studies range from the homesick gap-year backpacker of "Oh My God" to the two rivals locked into a love/hate relationship with each other over "Caroline, Yes". Snappily delivered in whip-smart couplets, the Chiefs' songs have more than a little of show tunes about them - indeed, the droll commentary on health and indulgence "Time Honoured Tradition" has the manner of a pop equivalent of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta - and it's a fair bet that before too long some enterprising producer will have them writing a pop musical.

But this does point to the Achilles heel in the Kaiser Chiefs' design, which is the Europeanness of their work. There are few of the American roots influences that underpin most UK pop of the past four decades. As with their chums Franz Ferdinand, there's an affinity for rhythms of Russian, Balkan and Polish origin, rather than for the blues. This may reflect post-Iraq disillusion with American tropes, but the consequence is a big, soul-sized spiritual hole in the band's style.

Instead they have a punning, jokey manner that sets up a buffer-zone of self-consciousness between themselves, their material, and their fans, and it might become harder for them to elicit an emotional response without offering more emotion themselves. But for now, they're the brightest, most colourful item in the toyshop, a band that demands to be loved.

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