Review Summary: So close, and yet so far.
Bloc Party appeared out of nowhere two years ago, with Silent Alarm proving to be a distinctive, different and inventive opus. With songs like Banquet storming out of the speakers, they were always going to be noticed. Also, they were probably the most likely out of the glut of new bands emerging to be able to follow it up, due to the superb musical credentials they displayed.
So, here it is. And it is at the same time the best and worst album of the year so far.
First things first. Everything is more direct here. There are no meandering efforts such as Blue Light and the Pioneers. No, here on display are straight to the point efforts liek Hunting for Witches and The Prayer, bursting with intensity. All the songs on here are much more structured, which whilst making them easier to pick up, does make them slightly less interesting.
Opener Song For Clay is representative of the album as a whole. It starts very badly, and doesn't get much better when the main riff comes in, sounding decidedly weak. Then the riff harmonizes, and it goes into a completely different league, a league where this might be considered great. A stellar chorus makes its presence known, and he guitar solo shows just how good Bloc Party's axe men are.
But it just doesn't quite work. The drums, so inspired on the first album, are reduced to a bland pound, without room for the inventive and speedy fills which populated the rockers on Silent Alarm. That riff keeps coming back and rather than drive the song forward makes it sound like a badly produced demo from a bunch of no hopers. In this song, you have some truly inspired moments, but they are tainted by the bad.
There are some truly superb songs on here. The Prayer, the first single, is as different and brilliant as anything you'll hear this year at all. The chorus shines forth like the star which Kele dreams of being allowed to become. The african verse and clapping create an incredibly disjointed feel which just works so well. Hunting for Witches, aside from the awesome riff and powerful chorus, has the best lyrics I think I've heard in a long time, railing against the racism and intolerance which is rife in Britain, within this age of paranoia and bigotry. Where is Home communicated perfectly the lost feel of this countries politics, that we no longer have an identity that we can believe in, and it communicates it in style. This is world beating stuff.
But it is counterpointed by the crap. Uniform boasts another appaling attempt at a heavy riff, the production not helping the fact that none of it fits together. Kreuzberg is dull, dull, dull (despite the touching lyrics) whilst On and Waiting for the 7:18 remain completely anonymous (even if the latter redeems itself slightly towards the end).
The musicianship is superb. All of these guys know exactly what they're doing and how to do it well. The solo's sound like a tasteful Tom Morello (difficult to imagine yes, but hey) whilst in the moments when he can Matt Tong shows why people approach his rythms with caution in case they sprain something and Kele's voice rings out in all its recognizable manifestations.
But its just not enough to save the album. The songs which deserve to be huge, the class band, the uniquely mature subject matter, all becomes irrelevent when placed next to the pointless drivel that comprises I Still Remember and others. A pity, because if they'd taken a little more time, been a little more adventurous, you feel they might have perhaps gone on and proven themselves to be more than just another band. They might have showsn they've got what it takes to become legend.