Bloc Party will change your life. Bloc Party are a bunch of no-style hacks. Bloc Party are a perfect synthesis of old-punk idol-worship and new-punk execution and fashion. Bloc Party are Interpol/Rapture/Franz Ferdinand 2005.

Music Reviews
Almost as cool as The Killers … almost. (Courtesy of Vice Records)

None of the above statements are whole truths, but let’s get to the one that is: The arguments over the merits of British quartet Bloc Party will be extended, fruitless and insufferable. Hipsters and backlash-artists will be at each other’s throats for months about Silent Alarm, Bloc Party’s debut album after a series of critically lauded EPs and singles. They are the product of hundreds of over-effusive weblogs, some dubious magazine support and, recently, a gushing “MTV News” spotlight.

The star-rating attached to this review — a mediocre two out of five — would seem to plant the review squarely in the backlash camp, but that’s only based on the delusional assumption that Silent Alarm is some sort of revolutionary, rock-saving paradigm shifter. It is a solid summation of the most popular indie-rock sounds of 2005, the best candidate for a NOW! That’s What I Call Underground Rock! compilation since Rooney.

In all likelihood, Bloc Party is infinitely more sincere about their rock music than any reductionist list of influences would suggest. It’s impossible, however, to ingest this music without hearing the history behind it; Wire, Joy Division, Gang of Four and Echo and the Bunnymen would all be obvious touchstones. Bloc Party also inherit all of the qualities that made recent world-beaters like Interpol and Franz Ferdinand so susceptible to backlash: They are young, fashionable, obviously talented and well-versed in the history of punk rock music.

But where Interpol overcame their unlikable qualities with undeniably great songwriting and Franz Ferdinand made us forget them with a shit-hot single (“Take Me Out”), Bloc Party fail to establish themselves as unique, memorable songsmiths. “Banquet,” the centerpiece to the band’s breakthrough EP (and included on Silent Alarm), is quite possibly the least memorable great song in history.

Everything seems to be in its right place; the guitars snipe and slash, the rhythms are bouncy and danceable, and singer/guitarist Kele Okereke sing/shouts a bunch of potentially career-defining lines (see “I’m on fire / You know I’m on fire so start me up” or “I gave you life / I can take it away”).

But for all the shit Bloc Party throws at the wall, very little of it sticks. It’s doubtful that any of “Banquet’s” energetic defenders can hum the melody. Many of the 14 tracks on the lengthy Silent Alarm suffer from similar identity problems. “Like Eating Glass” thrills from the get-go, but a dozen listens in, and it’s still barely differentiable from other burners like “She’s Hearing Voices” or “Price of Gas.” The slow tracks are worse. “This Modern Love” is especially flaccid, its guitar arpeggios and transparently sensitive lyrics barely outpace a Blink 182 ballad.

When the band pulls out all the stops, they can lay down some damn thrilling modern rock. “Positive Tension” flips between terse drum foundations and speaker-rattling keyboard bursts, and “Pioneers” has the sort of gusto that earns a song the anthem label.

Despite the talent and the occasional breakthrough, it’s tough to shake the notion that Bloc Party are playing Travis to Interpol’s Oasis. On “Pioneers,” Okereke shouts “We promised the world we’d tame it / What were we hoping for? / We will not be the last.” They weren’t the first either.

 

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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