Album: Kaiser Chiefs, The Future Is Medieval (Fiction/B-Unique)

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The Independent Culture

You'd think that the best way to reinvigorate a career slipping into the doldrums would be to focus on quality – so it's brave of Kaiser Chiefs to go the contrary route and opt for quantity instead, with the caveat that fans pick their 10 favourite tracks from the 20 offered online, abnegating to listeners decisions about sequencing and quality.

It's a decent marketing gimmick, though any other benefits are less certain. Hearing brief excerpts of each track is hardly the most reliable method by which to make one's choice; though having listened to all 20 in their entirety, I can confirm that by track 17, one's attention desperately seeks any passing distraction. And will all sales be conveniently aggregated as one for the purposes of calibrating chart position? Because ultimately, it seems less like an extension of consumer "choice" and more like an attempt to sell two albums at the same time, most hardcore fans being likely to download the first 10 tracks as one album, then the remaining 10 tracks as another – with both counting towards the one product. Or am I just being cynical?

Certainly, some tracks – "Saying Something", "My Place Is Here" – could have been designed as filler, while others slip by virtually unnoticed. Others are slim ideas polished into finished pieces. And even some of the better songs lack that adhesive zeitgeist quality that used to be the group's stock-in-trade. But at its best, there's enough variety and invention to recall The Beatles, sometimes directly: the wan, Lennonesque vocal and acoustic guitar of "If You Will Have Me", a son's touching message to estranged parents; the plonking, music-hall tack-piano and harmonies of "When All Is Quiet"; and the "Tomorrow Never Knows" drumbeat behind the Francis Durbridge thriller-theme guitar and keyboard of "I Dare You".

Elsewhere, there's a sinister sci-fi charm to "Child of the Jago", from whose repeated refrain derives the album's title, while "Problem Solved" delves into brittle, throwback power-pop. "Things Change" has a similarly new-wavey clutter, but more stern and concerned in manner, as it darts from one style to another in an attempt to evoke the whirlwind passage of time.

More often, the band employ pointed contrasts between style and subject: the relentlessly chugging "Little Shocks", about attention-deficit and distraction; and "Starts with Nothing", a song about mortality set to a defiantly lively, prancing arrangement decked out in psych-rock guitar and whizzy cosmic noises. But it's hard to understand why they included another couple of tracks after "Coming Up for Air", which with its air of weary resignation, its sad melodica, and its epiphanic guitar outro, is the most obvious album closer here. Then again, more than with any other album, you pays your money, and you makes your choice.

DOWNLOAD THIS Fly on the Wall; If You Will Have Me; Starts with Nothing; Little Shocks; When All Is Quiet; Things Change; Child of the Jago; I Dare You; Problem Solved; Coming Up for Air