On June 3, 2011, a widget appeared on Kaiser Chiefs' website. With little warning, the U.K. rock band, which had been on hiatus for nearly three years since the release of its album "Off With Their Heads," presented a new one, "The Future Is Medieval." Except instead of creating a traditional collection of cohesive tracks, the band posted 20 new songs in the widget designed by Special Problems with ad agency Wieden & Kennedy, allowing fans to create their own 10-track album complete with self-made cover art for £7.50 ($12).
"The whole point was that we weren't making an album," bassist Simon Rix says, noting that the 20 tracks made available were recorded in 2010 and 2011 in various studios with various producers, including Tony Visconti, Ethan Johns and Owen Morris. "We were making a collection of songs with different sounds about different things-some long, some short. It was up to each individual person to decide what they thought were the best songs were and what they thought the order should be."
The response was largely positive, with 14,000 albums sold through the band's website. Fans could even elect to sell their own version of "The Future Is Medieval," earning £1 ($1.60) per sale. But the group found that many listeners had trouble with the choice, asking the band for a concrete album with a track list and even a single. This request was satisfied by releasing a physical set with 12 of the 20 tracks on June 27 in the United Kingdom on B-Unique/Fiction, with "Little Shocks" functioning as the single.
But after signing a new deal in the United States with Cooperative Music/Downtown at the end of 2011, the band and its labels made the decision to craft a third version of the album under a completely different title for its U.S. debut. The result is "Start the Revolution Without Me." It contains 12 tracks from the "Medieval" sessions, plus "On the Run," which the band recorded in December. It will arrive March 6. Both the band and label selected the songs, focusing on tracks that would translate to the current U.S. pop market, following Kaisers Chiefs' 2005 breakout hit, "I Predict a Riot," which reached No. 34 on Billboard's Alternative chart.
"The U.S. has always been the biggest nut for them to crack," Cooperative Music GM Sean Maxson says. "There definitely is a difference in the two marketplaces. The strategy is to reintroduce the band to their hardcore fans that discovered them from 'I Predict a Riot' as a jumping-off point for the album."
The band will support this reintroduction with extensive touring, including a stop at Coachella in April, as well as promotion of "On the Run" as a possible radio single. The overall aim for the group, however, is to retain a sense of individuality in the music industry, hoping to veer away from as much of the traditional model as the label system will allow. Which is ironic, because "The Future Is Medieval" ultimately reinforced the importance of the album concept.
"People thought we were getting away from albums because we were just releasing songs," Rix says. "But I think the opposite. We were bringing people's attention back to the album because you had to choose 10 songs, you had to choose the order, you had to do the artwork. You couldn't just choose one or two tracks like people do nowadays. It highlighted again how important the album was."