Bloc Party is not a complex band. Its debut, Silent Alarm, was an exceptionally unoriginal work of post-punk rock with few unnecessary frills. It was also one of 2005’s best albums, evidence that simplicity, technical skill and keen melodic prowess can sometimes be more powerful than innovation.
Now, two years later, the British four-piece has returned with its sophomore effort, A Weekend in the City. Conceptually, it delves into darker territory, musing on life in London in the 21st century. The album draws on such themes as the 2005 London bombings, homosexuality and youth subculture.
The band retains its trademark angular sonics, yet the edges have been dulled by the somber conceptual content. The kinetics that made Silent Alarm such a fun dance machine have since become sluggish, in part because of the thematic despondency.
Immediately, album opener “Song For Clay (Disappear Here)” marks an obvious deviation from the band’s previous style. Kele Okereke’s guttural shouts and moans are replaced by maudlin croons, accompanied only by Russell Lissack gently strumming his guitar. The song is uncharacteristically lackadaisical, suspended in space until the snare forces its way in and lays down a marching rhythm.
Meanwhile, the band experiments by adding questionable flourishes to its style. U.K. lead single “The Prayer,” supposedly inspired by Busta Rhymes’s “Touch It,” features stuttering bass thumps and tribal humming (not unlike a Timbaland production or even a TV on the Radio record). Yet other than its chorus, the song fails to stir up any excitement above the incessant vocal buzzing.
Nonetheless, Bloc Party’s experimentation occasionally succeeds, as in “Hunting for Witches.” The track begins with a Steve Reich-like hodgepodge of chaotic sound bites played repetitively. The pandemonium forms the base on which the drums establish a dizzyingly syncopated and rhythmic sound. From there, the song soars.
But the moments at which Bloc Party excels – their energetic hooks with loud, spiky guitars, breakneck virtuosic drums and propulsive bass lines – are conspicuously few and far between. The talent is still here (especially in drummer Matt Tong, whose skills are as impressive as ever), but it remains largely dormant under the grim songwriting.
What’s most frustrating is that Bloc Party is one of those bands that really doesn’t need to deviate from the sound they perfected. Their debut was in many ways the prototypical post-punk record, a smartly constructed album built upon the band’s innumerable influences and obvious talent.
Instead of trying to eclipse their celebrated debut, Bloc Party decided to create a more subdued work. The result is a faulty album of tedium, melancholy and, ultimately, boredom – a disappointing follow-up for a band that had seemingly limitless potential.
A Weekend in the City
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars