“We’ve always been at our best when our backs are against the wall, when we’ve been fighting our corner, when we’re the underdog,” Kaiser Chiefs’ singer Ricky Wilson told the Yorkshire Evening Post in a recent interview.
Education, Education, Education & War has much of the combative spirit that made the Leeds band stars with their two-million selling debut album Employment back in 2005.
Gone is the artistic confusion of The Future is Medieval, the 2011 internet experiment where the band let fans choose their own track list from an array of 20 songs.
Gone too is drummer and principal songwriter Nick Hodgson, who left the band, declaring they were finished, in 2012.
In their place is a renewed sense of focus – this album is a lean 46 minutes including ten tracks and a poem – and a rousing ‘us against the world’ mentality.
Opening track The Factory Gates, with its giddy, Echo Beach-like keyboards and powerful refrain of “What you thought was way too much is not enough” sets the feisty tone. Lead single Coming Home might begin with a rich bassline and Cocteau Twins atmospherics but it builds to the kind of triumphant chorus that’s long been the Kaisers’ speciality.
Misery Company and Ruffians on Parade bear a strong influence of post-punk and new wave, the soaring Meanwhile Up in Heaven is perhaps destined to become the lighters-aloft in their set before it’s back again to crunchy guitar riffs with One More Last Song.
If My Life has a sense of impotent, fist-waving rage, Bows & Arrows is Wilson and bass player Simon Rix’s rousing “it’s always you and me” celebration of friendship. Cannons is the album’s big anti-politicians moment, declaring “Oh Lord, heaven help us” before Bill Nighy pops up to recite an anti-war poem.
The album closes with a hint of Flaming Lips in the bittersweet Roses, with Wilson flexing the top end of his vocal range with lines such as “It’s dark, dark where the roses grow/There’s something you should know/Before you see the light”.
More than anything, Education, Education, Education & War sounds like a band rediscovering its sense of purpose. Out of mid-career crisis has sprung a new sense of hope and vitality.