First out of the blocks, just Usain Bolt, I felt this had to be reviewed, and damn quickly. Downloaded it this morning, having been a bit of a fanboy and pre-ordered the CD, and now, Kele and co’s third is blasting from my speakers.
‘Ares’ kicks things off with a sound that reminds me mainly of ‘Street Fighting Man’, Rage’s cover of a Stooges song, and all throughout, Tom Morello seems to be a touchstone. With a nagging guitar refrain, and a repeated “we dance to the sound of silence”, this is a pretty unsettling opener, clattering percussion building up and exploding all over the place. Kele has his vocals processed, distorted, sampled and thrown about the mix, which sets the tone for the big follower.
Released on YouTube initially, ‘Mercury’ is one of those songs that infuriate me, simply because I can’t get it out of my head. When you’ve got to make the CEO tea, and all you hear is “my mercury’s in retrograde” over and over and over and over, it’s classifiably catchy. The thing is, there isn’t really a musical hook to latch onto; something that I’ve got a bone to pick with the boys about. On Silent Alarm, there were riffs galore, and even on A Weekend In The City, there were at least some bits and pieces in amongst Jacknife Lee’s fiddling. I hear they’ve got Paul Epworth back on board, to join Lee at the knobs, and there is a bit of a tear: the old punkish sensibilities are poking their heads through a horrible electronic mess.
‘Halo’ is a prime example. A bit of a clone of Luno, but still individual enough, it’s been treated with too much Jacknifing, and sounds messy, almost overproduced, a flaw which you couldn’t level at Silent Alarm. One of Epworth’s trademarks, both as an artist on his own (with Lomax) or when producing (for example, Maximo Park’s debut), is a spare, empty, twitchy sound, but Lee seems to put layer upon layer of sounds and glitches: even when Radiohead sound textured, they don’t sound messy. What ‘Halo’ does well is to have a decent riff, stick to it and then deviate over it, not away from it, and thus you get a song that could actually sound pretty good when jumping around in front of a stage.
Listening to this on the Tube this morning, ‘Biko’ stood out as the first slower tune, but still, it’s not up there with ‘Blue Light’ or ‘So Here We Are’, or even ‘Sunday’; perhaps Okereke has lost some of his sensitivity, or perhaps he’s just got a tad older, a tad less nakedly honest. I would try and tell you what he was singing about, but indistinct as he was on A Weekend, I had the lyric sheet there… but until October, there’s not much I can make out.
Beats are the most important thing about this album, and sadly, that detracts from Matt Tong, who’s drumming is sacrificed even more than the last time out. ‘Trojan Horse’, with another bonkers Morello style guitar part, and a barnstormer of a solo, is drumming by numbers, or perhaps by beatbox. I don’t doubt that he played on the album, but there was something different about a drummer playing like a demented beatbox, as opposed to an actual beatbox. Never mind: perhaps on the fourth, it’ll be a “return to rock.” They might even buy Woodstock.
‘Signs’ is a breath of fresh air. Bass thrums underneath a lovely music box tinkle give this a kind of epic feel, and without any real sonic plateau, there are reminiscences of the early days, where songs like ‘The Answer’ would just vamp on. It’s a pity that ‘One Month Off’, a song title that evokes images of The Kinks, Pulp or Blur is just a formulaic song, with nothing particularly interesting, not even a good beat. It twitches along, sounds very modern, and is utterly forgettable. I don’t somehow think that they are playing these songs live for a long enough time – the first album sounded like they played it, the second sounded like it was knocked together, and this just sounds an overproduced mess.
‘Zephyrus’ does funny things with a choir, ‘Better The Heaven’ is certainly better than the song beforehand, but it still takes far too long to explode into the mildly interesting song it could be – while ‘Uniform’ took a while, at least it was worth it. Here, more noodling in a sub-Radiohead manner just bores me. The worst song in the canon award, though, goes to ‘Ion Square’ – when you are a post-punk band, making indie music with a hint of electronica, maybe some nods to the great and good of the various scenes over the last few decades, but are, at root, men with guitars and a drum kit, please, please, please do not make songs that sound like rejected Eurythmics b-sides. It is just a horrible song.
To paraphrase a lot of my old school reports: “A disappointing year for the boys, who have a lot more potential. Perhaps coming back to the real world might be a good start.” I implore Bloc Party: the best moments here are when you give us either a lyric or a melody that actually sticks in the brain, the worst are when you try to be far too clever. Everything on their first album jumped out of the speakers, grabbed the imagination and made you sit up. Since they’ve stopped having to play the same bunch of songs for years and hone them to crowd pleasing perfection, and since hooking up with Jacknife Lee, too many knobs have been twiddled, too many issues have been confronted, and it’s all come at the expense of the songs.