High Profile Leak weekend was capped with an unexpected treat: Bloc Party! The highly anticipated follow-up to the Brit band’s much-adored debut Silent Alarm surfaced yesterday, and if you pinned it down in cyberspace, you probably spent your rainy Monday listening and thinking the same, hyphenated two words: Front-loaded! Even if this is a pre-master (or early, unfinished mix) that the band is inconsolably devestated about leaking (which they are), it’s tough not to feel some disappointment with what our iPods are singing.
The question you have to ask going into A Weekend In The City: What element do you wanna see the band play up this time around? Silent Alarm was so loved ’cause it wasn’t just a marriage of the “sound of the day” post-punk with OK Computer art guitars; the band pulled off moods as diverse as their looks — tough, stylish, vulnerable, lovelorn, infuriated, and surreptitiously mushy. But this time around, aside from the opening tracks, the mush factor is high, and the “formula” is becoming more apparent than they’d like.
“Song For Clay (Disappear Here)” is a promising opener; Kele’s under his breath and serious, the drums and riffs come in with more outright rock than we’re used to from the Bloc, and then we’re treated to what makes ‘em awesome: well arranged backing vocals, texture guitars, and quick-shifting drum patterns. “Hunting For Witches” is much better on record than it’s been live; the electro-glitches and angular, incisive dance-punk guitar lines really do live up to the “bricolage” Kele promised months ago! And “Waiting For The 7.18″ is the obvious bridge tune, connecting the band’s two albums. Kicking in with “Blue Light”-type guitar swells, moving into that emotional, Bloc Party paydirt that Alarm mined on “So Here We Are” and “Little Thoughts,” and featuring the ever-awesome kit manipulation of Matt Tong.
“The Prayer” is the lead single, we guess ’cause it’s a little different from the Silent-y tunes and still not, well, boring. “Uniform” is where the breathy and serious-then-banging-and-arty formula begins to wear thin. “On” borrows a melodic phrase from When In Rome’s “The Promise” (Napoleon!), but it’s slight and quick, and there are some nasty, unexpected chords underlying the established melody during the second verse. So we’re still seeing the band pursue great ideas, and Kele’s voice still has that seductive blend of vulnerability and poise.
But the bottom line for the remainder: Too much of the second half sounds like “I Still Remember.” Totally inoffensive, dropping lyrics like “I would go with you anywhere, I should have kissed you …” Whaaa? We knew you guys were sensitive, but c’mon! Release that track directly to the soundtrack of whatever hipster teen soap for which it was written. “I still remember,” says Kele. We do, too! “I’ll love you in the morning,” he says on the next track, “Sunday.” Guess we will, too – but this is thin fucking ice, Bloc Party.
Somehow we see a lot of people being disappointed by this record, but not enough to leave them (’cause, like us, they’ll always heart them), with a net result of the band getting even bigger. It’s a shrewd strategy: Make a sophomore record that promises big changes, sprinkle them here and there, but play up the elements that the 14 year old girls would dig while sticking with some nasty beats. If you let the drums be the muscle, you can get away with being surprisingly sappy.
But slow tempo doesn’t have to elicit undiscernable mush. Like, “SXRT,” the album closer, is slow, sure. But between the synths, the walls of vocals, and texture guitars, it’s just fucking massive. Kele’s “Walking in the countryside,” and for the first time in twenty minutes, we’re with him, and we’re feeling what he’s feeling — it’s emotional, yeah, but it’s also entirely authentic.
The record ends with “SXRT”‘s pretty tinkling of glockenspiels, and it’s fitting; while the balance once tipped towards them being a smoldering post-punk band with heart, Bloc Party is now more of a bleeding-heart band with art guitars, a great drummer, and post-punk influence. It’s a move to the middle — probably not enough to push too many people away, but definitely enough to elicit lots of yawns.
Did you listen? Are you underwhelmed? If not — tell us what you’re loving about it! And for fun, let’s postulate on what this record is gonna do for the band. Are they about to blow up (like, for real) this time? Just where do you go from being a Target spokesband?
A Weekend In The City is out 2/7/07 on Vice.