Throughout the 2000’s, the UK indie rock community was very much centred around one specific sound, which was somewhere between Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys. Any band that strayed too far from that template was either cast out (like Coldplay), or dubbed the heralds of a new genre (like The Klaxons). The band that most embodied that sought-after sound in its purest form was probably the Kaiser Chiefs, with their early singles being heralded by NME and their contemporaries. However, there were also many detractors, who rightly pointed out that the Kaiser Chiefs were peddling a much slicker, more polished, and (god-forbid) poppy version of the UK indie rock sound. In an impressive evolution, Stay Together, their new album has embraced the age of poptimism, and sees the band finally dedicating to the pop instincts they’ve always had.
From the opening pulse of the title track, it’s easy to tell Stay Together is quite different from the group’s previous works. Between the warm synths, and the moody singing of vocalist Ricky Wilson, the track sounds more like The Presets than the Kaiser Chiefs, and it’s all the better for it. As it builds, the track becomes an invigorating mix of tropical atmosphere and Foals-esque guitar, coming across as a more successful version of what Coldplay was going for on A Head Full of Dreams. The album’s best material is that which goes all-in on the pop sound, like lead single Parachute. The central “if we’ve only got one parachute / you know I’d give it to you” hook is just about the corniest thing ever written, but the band imbues it with such earnestness and sweetness that it seems genuine.
The album’s weakest moments are those that recall the band’s prior rock sound. Good Clean Fun and Why Do You Do It To Me? are both serviceable Kaiser Chiefs songs, but we’ve heard a thousand songs like them before, and they stop the album’s momentum in its tracks. It recovers somewhat in the more successful second half, but the opening three songs are so such a strong run that it’s deeply frustrating to see it stop. Luckily, when Stay Together works, it works fantastically, reminding listeners why the group became successful in the first place. It wasn’t because of their faux-punk “edge”, or their Strokes-aping fashion, it was because they knew how to write a damn strong hook.