BLOC PARTY: A WEEKEND IN THE CITY (2007)
Well, looks like they didn't want to be post-punk-rockers anyway — they wanted to be a guitar-and-keyboards dance troup! Leaping from synth to synth, as they drill into the minds of desperate listeners... excuse me. When a band is mediocre from the start, and then takes a sharp turn to Shitsville at the first crossroads it reaches, it is only natural that a reviewer may be goaded into lame paraphrasing.
Anyway, the things that made me sit up and take notice while listening to Silent Alarm, a.k.a. This Band's Saving Grace, are mostly absent on their second release. The quirky guitar interplay and Matt Tong's super-precise drum-rattling work have faded into the background, and the foreground is almost completely dominated by Kele Okereke's New(est) Romantic artistic vision and personal brand of urban poetry. If, for some reason, you hate that guy, do not come within ten miles of this album's radiation field.
Pretense runs very high here, as Kele and his Party openly join the new line of indie bands who have made it their purpose to try and strip their teenage audiences out of consumerist apathy: a brave, idealistic, and ultimately doomed goal, but also one theoretically capable of lighting a new flame through the same old means (Arcade Fire etc.). From the angst, spite, and self-pity of Silent Alarm they try to move one level up, making the message more overwhelming and universalist. But it all just results in having bitten off far more than they can chew.
The music hardly registers. Too many of these songs sound like they have been stolen out of Robert Smith's wastebasket — including the lead-off single, 'The Prayer', with its deep-running ambience-setting electric guitar waves, «intelligent dance» rhythms, and Kele's prophetic, agonizing screams (that still sound a tad weak and mild when you compare them to The Cure at their best). So the lyrics lambast the trendy hipster of 2007: big deal. Who ever succeeded in changing the world with such a silly thing as lyrics? Even with Bob Dylan, the exact words never mattered half as much as the setting and the way in which they were delivered.
It is not, of course, as if Silent Alarm had a ton of great guitar riffs and here they have all been replaced by same-sounding, «backgroundish», guitar-keyboards droning. To me, at least, those riffs never spoke on a personal level — but it was interesting and amusing to watch them weave the patterns around each other, in the hopes that, one day, all of it would grow into something completely different. On Weekend, allegedly expressing their dissatisfaction about sounding like all the other indie guys out there, they just threw it all away, resulting in... uh... sounding like all the other indie guys out there. What, did they really think that, by replacing complex chords with U2-ish chimy jangle and spicing it up with electronics, they could become more interesting? This I cannot possibly understand.
Granted, accidents will happen, sometimes pleasant ones. Way way near the end, a few songs after complete desperation has set in, the band unexpectedly erupts into a fabulous power pop tune: 'I Still Remember' has not just the best guitar melody on the album, but one of the best guitar melodies of the decade — simple, charming, and beautifully fitting in with the rare exception of a shy, intimate lyrical piece, as Kele reminisces about a botched romance. If you like The Cure's 'Friday I'm In Love', you are almost guaranteed to like this as well. I also happen to be a big fan of 'Sunday' and its ultra-catchy 'I'll love you in the morning' chorus... somehow, it seems that love song territory is a better bet for Bloc Party than their gopherish attempts to uproot the grand oak of social inertia and indifference.
Probably because of the passion involved, A Weekend In The City is a slow grower, and those who generally prefer denser, pseudo-orchestral sounds to in-yer-face smash guitar may even come to like it over its predecessor. Yet even after a few listens, to my ears it comes out as a painfully wrong direction for these guys, although it took them two more years to become definitively fixed in that direction. Thumbs down, bar a special rescue mission for the two songs I mentioned.
Check "A Weekend In The City" (CD) on Amazon
Check "A Weekend In The City" (MP3) on Amazon