Album review: Bloc Party need a new sermon to follow as Hymns fails to impress
Two and a half stars
Repurposing your own old lyrics is a curious opening gambit for a group making a comeback, but that’s exactly how Bloc Party greet us on The Love Within, the opening track of their fifth album.
“Lord, give me grace and dancing feet”, originally put to more locomotive use in their 2007 single The Prayer, is a doubly strange reintroduction to a band who have overhauled their personnel in the four years since their previous album.
Only frontman Kele Okereke and innovative lead guitarist Russell Lissack remain, with an entirely new rhythm section installed. If anybody was in any doubt as to whose baby this is, Okereke confirmed suspicions when he recently said: “I love what I do, so they had to go.”
Musically, it’s fair to say that Bloc Party have increasingly fallen under increasingly similar influences to Okereke’s dance-music-led solo exploits. They certainly aren’t the same indie-rockers who broke out 11 years ago with their wired, wiry debut album, Silent Alarm.
Then, they were wide-eyed 20-somethings, alive to the possibilities of life – now, in their mid-30s, there’s a maturity to their sound, yet a very real danger of dimming that vital spark.
The Love Within demonstrates that metamorphosis, overflowing as it is with synths that accompany Okereke’s trademark articulation of longing and uncertainty. If anything, he’s become more neurotic with age, with a pithy outlook on life.
It feels, however, like the departure of Bloc Party’s founding drummer, Matt Tong, could be a turning point for the worse. Without the propulsive driving force behind their agitated, rarely generic sound, the drum tracks on Hymns sound somewhat weedy and uninspired.
Only He Can Heal Me is an early victim, with the band’s talent for layering backing vocals as a percussive instrument failing to save a flimsy, mid-tempo backdrop.
The big, bombastic guitars of old have had their wings clipped, notably on Virtue, where a distinctly New Order-esque bassline winds around a dose of mild self-loathing from Okereke.
The singer has been accused of writing trite lyrics in his time – but he surpasses himself on the somewhat pedestrian The Good News, with the naff, banal couplet: “Every day is a repeat/ Like a carrier bag stuck in a tree.”
Fortress seems to take an earful of beats-based advice from fellow British envelope-pusher FKA Twigs, with Okereke switching to choirboy tones, while Different Drugs taps into an intriguingly paranoid vein. In both cases, however, there’s little of the velocity that made Bloc Party one of the defining indie-rock outfits of the past decade.
If these are indeed Hymns, then Bloc Party disciples might want to start looking for new leaders to follow, at least until this new line-up solidifies. Because right now, they’re sounding like a band driven by a messiah complex, in need of a new sermon to follow.
Published: February 8, 2016 04:00 AM