Last week I saw the Kaiser Chiefs live at the O2. It was a fantastic concert, and nostalgic for me, because I last saw them live back in 2007 when I was a teenager in Brighton. But it also brought home to me the political nature of many of the Kaiser Chief lyrics.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with them, the Kaiser Chiefs are an indie rock band from Leeds that formed in 2003. They are named after a South African football club, the first club of an ex-Leeds United Captain. The band consists of Ricky Wilson, Andrew White, Nick Baines, Simon Rix, and Vijay Mistry, who replaced the previous drummer in 2012. The band has had a successful decade, releasing 5 studio albums, 2 of which reached number 1 in the UK. They have also done several memorable live performances, including opening the Live-8 festival in Philadelphia in 2005, and performing at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. They have also been one of my favourite bands since I was 13.
We are the angry mob
We read the papers every day
We like who we like
We hate who we hate
But we’re all so easily swayed
The Angry Mob, 2007
The Kaiser Chiefs have always had critical lyrics in their songs, and they haven’t been very subtle about it. With songs such as I Predict a Riot from the 2005 album Employment and The Angry Mob and Everything is Average Nowadays from 2007’s Yours Truly, Angry Mob, a sense a resentment is obvious. It doesn’t seem obvious to me exactly who, or what, this anger is directed at though, except perhaps modern society in general.
They tell you day after day
To make your way through the factory gates
‘Til they can’t break your will anymore
You are contractually tied to death’s door
The Factory Gates, 2014
More recently however, their critique has become more directed. The title of their most recent album Education, Education, Education and War (2014) is a clear critique of Tony Blair, British Prime Minister between 1997 and 2007. It is well known that Blair’s priorities for his time in office were “education, education, education,” and he is blamed by many for the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war. The album also includes the poem The Occupation, written by Ricky Wilson and narrated by Bill Nighy. It is a modern anti-war poem inspired by the centenary of the first world war. It tells the story of an assault by a superpower on Hell, but could be applied to almost any recent conflict, and the result is a damning critique of war and imperial attitudes.
The occupation of Damnation Eternal
Decreed by Commander in Chief
Won by the infantry, led by the Colonel
Came at costs that would beggar belief
As they marched upon the inferno
And the inﬁdels dropped to their knees
Millions of civilians crammed in pavilions
Came to watch it on big screen TVs
The population of Damnation Eternal
Went from millions to thousands to one
The survivor then wrote in his journal
“Why on Earth did it take them so long?”
Within weeks we constructed a pipeline
Within years we’ll have run the place dry
It’ll just about last us our lifetime
So it’s hip hip hoorays and high ﬁves
On the factory ﬂoor there’s a whisper
We built cannons before it began
But the engines still pumping its piston
And the turbine still whirring its fan
The assembly line spits out the surplus
Into purpose built lead lined white vans
Rockets stockpile as ministry workers
Fill their pockets with all that they can
Secret meetings are held in the senate
What to do with this excess supply
There’s a plan to abandon the planet
One V.I.P at a time
So we get up each day and have breakfast
Read the news and the weather forecast
As we sit and we open our letters
And we pray that it won’t be our last.
Words by Ricky Wilson, narrated by Bill Nighy, 2014.
This is not the first time that I have written about the ability of music to make a political statement. Music, songs and chants have always been an important part of protest, and the popularity of modern musicians means they have quite a lot of power to publicise their point of view and influence people. The Kaiser Chiefs’ music has evolved over the last 10 years, but they have never been afraid to use it to express their opinions, which I think only adds to their appeal.
Sources and Further Reading
Adam Sherwin. ‘Kaiser Chiefs and Bill Nighy write modern day anti-war poem for the World War One centenary’ The Independent. Last modified 6th march 2014, accessed 16th February 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/kaiser-chiefs-and-bill-nighy-write-modern-day-antiwar-poem-for-the-world-war-one-centenary-9174405.html