Monday, January 22, 2007

“Oh My God” / Kaiser Chiefs

Sure, I like the Arctic Monkeys, I like Franz Ferdinand, but if you ask me which new UK band I like the most, I’d have to say The Kaiser Chiefs. They have a much wider range, which probably hasn’t helped them – you don’t hear a track and automatically think, “Oh, that’s the Kaiser Chiefs.” This song, for example, sounds a bit like Blur, with a similar layered coolness and hypnotic hooks. But the first time I heard this song, what I thought of was the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” – it’s got that same desperate quality, the longing to bust out of a drab provincial existence (in their case, Leeds). This album, Employment, came out in 2005, forty years after the Animals’ hit, but some things never change.

I wouldn’t say their lyrics are poetry, but the Chiefs get off some one-liners that make you realize the songwriter has actually thought about life. Take this first verse, which starts off with load of crap clichés (catch the reference to the Stones’ “Time Is On My Side”) and then smashes them with frustration: “Time on your side that will never end / The most beautiful thing you can ever spend / But you work in a shirt with your name tag on it / Drifting apart like a plate tectonic.” Maybe “tag on it” is a cheap rhyme with “tectonic” -- still, it’s a perfect phrase to describe the sort of belittling job you fall into at a certain age, and when you add the seismic force rumbling underneath, it sets up the conflict with wonderful economy. That’s songwriting.

Then he describes how he relates to his girlfriend, another bogged-down situation: “Too much time spent dragging the past up / I didn't see you not looking when I messed up.” (Love the paranoia of him watching her watching him blunder around.) At least in the Animals song, the guy and his girl were in it together – “Girl there’s a better life for me and you”; for the Kaiser Chiefs, the draggy girlfriend is strike two against him. But in the third verse, he reminds us that he’s got youth’s resilience: “Knock me down I'll get right back up again / I'll come back stronger than a powered up Pac-Man.” Goofy image, okay, but considering the minor key, the sullen vocals, and the lock-step rhythms, it doesn’t come off as comic – it’s just the kind of magical thinking a young slacker needs to survive.

His voice lifts tentatively into another modal key at the end of each verse, claiming (I picture his defiant shrug, jaw jutting forward): “It don't matter to me / 'Cos all I wanted to be / Was a million miles from here / Somewhere more familiar.” Yeah, that’s authentic too, that feeling of not belonging (the Animals echo again) and knowing there’s another place that will feel right.

Heading into the chorus, the doubled vocal “oh’s” swoop menacingly up a long scale, building in volume, until all his suppressed rage and determination break out: “Oh my god I can't believe it / I've never been this far away from home” wailed over and over, a wall-pounding mantra that doesn’t go anywhere. How can it? This song isn’t about a solution, it’s about a feeling. You may feel this way even without a name-tag on your shirt. Well, next time you need to beat your fists against the sky . . . here’s the song for you.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

How's this for timing? A minute ago I was pounding away on my laptop, in a coffee shop, listening to the Arctic Monkeys complain about a couple of bouncers. I decided I needed a break and went to your blog.

I really like the Arctic Monkeys (AMs), so I was skeptical when I switch over from "From Ritz To The Rubble" to "Oh My God" by the "KCs." Maybe it's the AM's grittier production values, but "Oh My God" just didn't stand up to the test. Then again, I'm pretty sleep deprived, and I need the noise and the caffiene more today than most.

Thanks for brightening my day, though, with another thoughtful recommendation!