Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Battle of Britrock

Bloc Party
Intimacy - ****

Kaiser Cheifs
Off with their Heads - ***1/2

Just so you know, over a decade ago, the British charts were being ruled by bands who were part of the so-called "Britpop" movement. Basically, these bands were English to the core, crooked teeth and all. In the summer of 1995, an event that defined the movement happened: the Battle of Britpop. Blur vs. Oasis; South England vs. North England; Art-schools vs. Blue-collars. Both of their singles were to drop on the same day, and it caused so much of a cultural fervor that even the BBC ran news stories about it. Fast-forward 13 years later to 2008, and we have British bands every which way. Like their Britpop counterparts, they are truly English, have no success in the States (except for Franz Ferdinand) and two bands have released an album in the same week. It's not on the same day, but it's close enough. Unlike Blur and Oasis, who were two bands on the social and cultural spectrum, the two bands here, Kaiser Chiefs and Bloc Party, are more like two peas in a pod. So don't expect Ricky Wilson to say that Kele Okereke should get AIDS and die.

So which band made the better album? Let's look at our competitors:

In the blue corner, hailing from London, it's Bloc Party, fronted by Okereke. They smashed onto the Britrock scene with the excellent debut, Silent Alarm, which features jittery riffs and electronic soundscapes.

Their next album, A Weekend in the City, was, in this critic's opinion, a glossy, polished step down from Alarm. Now they have released Intimacy, a solid effort by the band. The album features jagged rock riffing with hip-hop beats. The album grabs you into its world with the fast and quick "Eros" and continues with the funky single "Mercury."

The band is focused with this work and is probably the most focused band in the Britrock scene right now. They take songs with the classic verse-chord-verse structure and add a little something to the songs, such as "Signs," which features an excellent use of synths and percussion. Other songs mix in techno beats, while others are just plain intense three-minute jams. Is it all right to Bloc Party rock now? A few weeks back I said to a friend that Bloc Party was the "New Wave Coldplay."

A Weekend in the City to me was a soft effort where they were treading soft rock territories. Fortunately, Bloc Party has returned to the focused intensity that made them hit makers in England in the first place.

Now on to their rivals. Sort of.

In the red corner … The Pride of Leeds, Kaiser Chiefs! They return with Off with their Heads, a much better effort than their predecessor Yours Truly, Angry Mob, an album which Damon Albarn of Blur mentioned specifically as a poor album from a young, promising band. Their debut Employment was a good album, even if it was a bit Beach Boys-ish rather than being Kinks-esque. Heads is not only better than YTAM but also than Employment. The only problem with the album is originality. The band doesn't do many new things with the tunes they have. However, unlike some bands who released albums of the same stuff, the Kaiser Chiefs do it well. The songs are fun and jovial. Songs like "Never Miss a Beat" and "Addicted to Drugs" are full of life and catchy. Unlike Bloc Party, however, Kaiser Chiefs are not as focused, and the songs sometimes show it. But what the hell? I said these songs were fun, right? So why be focused when you can make a good rock album? Thankfully the Kaiser Chiefs have bounced back in a big way, and let's hope they continue to move forward. They have good momentum now.

So who is the victor after these 15 rounds? Bloc Party wins in a unanimous decision! That is until Franz Ferdinand release Tonight in January and pretty much use their Scottish powers to pile-drive the competiton like they did with their debut and follow-up. Okay, I went a little overboard right there. Just enjoy these albums for now until the next gang of British rockers can come and take the title as the King of Britrock.

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