Kaiser Chiefs, 'Off With Their Heads' (Universal/Motown)

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Off With Their Heads
Critical Mass
Label: Universal Motown

by Barry Walters

Take a band known for crossing Britpop brains with new-wave brightness. Hire a transatlantic DJ-producer feted for making hot '60s soul cool again. Then entrust the results -- surprisingly feeble tunes, tossed-off sentiments, and uninspired performances -- to the guy who mixed Linkin Park? Blimey! Kaiser Chiefs have got themselves a stadium-size mess.

It didn't have to be like this. The Leeds, England quintet's brash 2005 debut, Employment, and 2007 follow-up, Yours Truly, Angry Mob, cleverly combine English pop traditions with welcoming choruses to help outsiders grasp the band's culturally specific commentary. Amy Winehouse minder Mark Ronson has pulled off similar tricks with dusty cult R&B, and engineer Andy Wallace reliably polishes dude-rock puffery until it shoots off the radio into mallrat iPods.

Great Chiefs songs like "I Predict a Riot" and "Everything Is Average Nowadays" could've thrived amid all these agendas. But there's nothing of that quality here: Lyrics juxtapose tired tropes, and only the jittery single "Never Miss a Beat" and its string-driven successor "Like It Too Much" deliver hooks strong enough to support the studio bombast. Weirdly, the production shoots steroids into the band's weakest muscle, bassist Simon Rix, while downplaying charismatic mouthpiece Ricky Wilson. A big bottom and a shrunken head: These trebly, trenchant Brits have truly gone pear-shaped.

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