Every week we guide you through the biggest albums, to help you decide what you should be streaming. This week: Leeds lads come bouncing back, and shouty Scots deliver a powerful movie soundtrack…
Often lumped in with the “landfill indie” of the early 00s, it’s often forgotten just what an exciting proposition the Kaiser Chiefs were when they arrived on the scene: beery bonhomie via catchy choruses. Not only that, but their songs were surprisingly effective at captured the mood of a divided nation. What an ideal time for them to return, then.
For the most part on their new album Duck, they’ve scaled back the 80s New Wave feel of 2016’s Stay Together and returned to the bouncy indie of their best work, specifically 2007’s Yours Truly, Angry Mob. But while the terrace chants and Energizer-bunny energy of frontman Ricky Wilson have carried over, for the most part, anything approaching depth or political is missing in action. Maybe Duck is the most appropriate title, as it turns out.
The power of the melodies and choruses is due praise however. Leadoff single ‘People Know How To Love One Another’ updates The Beatles’ ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ via sunny dispositions, horns and unforgettable harmonies that punch their way into your brain and set up shop, while ‘Wait’ is a slice of light funk in the vein of Portugal, The Man’s ‘Feel It Still’, and every bit as irresistible.
But sadly any number of hooks isn’t enough to sustain Duck for its full 40 minutes. There are moments of lyrical joy—‘Golden Oldies’ is not only the biggest sing-a-long here, but it also explores deeply personal themes of settling down with “too much Baileys over ice” at Christmas—the Kaiser Chiefs settle all too quickly on a clever lyrical pun, at once meaningless and more than a little smug. ‘Target Market’ is too clever for its own good, a love song written to management buzzwords. Lines like “you’re…my demographic in a vintage party dress” work actively against a beautifully relaxed ballad playing underneath and stretching an irritating thread until it frays. Like everything else, ‘Record Collection’, meanwhile, feels lumpy and lifeless, throwing in rhyming couplets to show how pleased the band are with themselves, rather than delivering anything meaningful.
In interviews surrounding the release of Duck, frontman Ricky Wilson has been openly discussing issues such as anxiety and alcoholism. If a few more of these lyrical themes worked their way in among the bouncy indie anthems, the Kaisers might be able to halt the slide into a nostalgia act.
Biffy Clyro, meanwhile, have never been afraid at looking at darker issues, even if their last couple of studio albums have tended towards a more down-the-line “rawk” route. Balance, Not Symmetry, which arrives on vinyl for the first time this week, sees the Scottish trio reconnecting with their more experimental roots, with a film soundtrack that might be testing the water for a new, braver studio record.
Very little of what’s on offer here feels like a traditional soundtrack. The opening title track feels welcomingly uncompromising. “I don’t wanna be defeated I just wanna fuck, what!” launches the first line, before guitars turned up to eleven-ty stupid respond in kind. It’s the most energised the band have sounded in quite some time, and from there they slide into chiming harmonies on ‘All Singing and All Dancing’, then on to an acoustic, gentler shuffle on ‘Different Kind of Love’. In just three tracks, Biffy Clyro reveal the extent of their ambition.
Shorter cue tracks are peppered through the record, pulsating and crackling with impressive synths, similar to the work of Geoff Barrow on Annihalation, but the links are more thematic: a loss of religious belief and synaesthesia, revelling in the emotion of colours. ‘Navy Blue’ pulses like neon, where ‘Yellow’ feels warmer and more supportive. The idea of monochrome bursting into life brings hope to what can often feel like a suffocating record, and it’s especially effective on ‘Gates of Heaven’, despite the presence of a particularly menacing piano.
Weirder, clashing moments like this are the closest Balance, Not Symmetry gets to the Biffy of old, when they were genuinely quite an odd proposition. With any luck this could be an effective signifier of a new full studio album to come, and if the band can reclaim their place as outsiders, Mon the Biff indeed.
Duck by Kaiser Chiefs: 3/5
Balance, Not Symmetry by Biffy Clyro: 4/5