Review Summary: Kele attempts to knock us out, but instead trips on his own shoelaces, breaking his nose on the canvas. The crowd, however, have a wonderful time watching.
Now, as a general rule of thumb in my book, solo projects should inherently be seen as seperate bodies of work from the artist in question's main band - a vessel for material that may not work in another musical environment and all the stipulations or expectations that entails. But, when there is shameless recycling going on from project-to-project, I feel something has to be said about it.
The reusing of vocal melodies, from Bloc Party's singer/guitarist/lyricist and now fully-fledged solo artist Kele Okereke, simply has to stop. From Silent Alarm, through A Weekend In The City and Intimacy, and finally landing here at The Boxer, this has been a very apparent facet (and problem, in my opinion) with Kele's songwriting.
As deftly pointed out in other review publications, this is more noticeable on The Boxer due to various myriad factors; while the beats are not instrinsically similiar in how they sound per se, the super-slick production often places Kele's vocals too high ("On The Lam") or too low ("Tenderoni") in the mix. On most songs on the album, choruses and a proper melody marking the lyrics as cohesive is very sorely missed, rendering them all fairly uninteresting vocally, a fact left all the more frustrating given the knowledge that, as seen in his past work and (even a couple of songs on this release), Okereke is a good songwriter, capable of constructing sharp, jagged instrumentals backing decisive vocals and scathing lyrics.
The lyrical aspect of the album is, by and large, generic. Vapid, tired Kele-isms such as,
"Been running with the rude boys
For much too much too long
You think you are one of them
Every time that we kiss
It seems you are holding back
Don't be so quick to pull away",
come across as simply well-worn and uninteresting, and I've always been of the opinion that there's a certain amount of posturing in the lyrics and persona that Kele wants to put across. One - the articulate, verbose subversion of stereotypes galore; A black man who is an open homosexual, radically left in his political leanings, unafraid to cite sources not often quoted as wells of inspiration amongst the black musical populace. And two - a hard, tough "Rude-boy" who takes no prisoners and simply exudes machismo. Which would be all well and good if it contained even a grain of genuine truth to it; to me, at least, it comes across akin to having your cake and eating it. Now, this may not strictly impede your enjoyment of the album, but it did leave some lines awkward and laughable for me, and thus seemed suitable for a mention.
The production, as I noted above, is slick and interesting enough I suppose, for one or two songs. A full album of chittering, stuttery beats devoid of a concrete vocal hook just starts to grate after awhile. For it to have worked marginally better, the beats would've had to been more standalone and individual from each other. However, XXXchange is normally a very fine producer, which again leaves me baffled as to what went wrong.
I would be lying if I said there was NO enjoyment to be gleaned from blessing this record with a listen - "Everything You Wanted", while not an instant classic or exercise in genius musicianship or anything of the sort, is a solid, mostly-rememberable rather soulful little number, where the chorus(!) utilizes a coherent, playful little melody (albeit simply being the title repeated over and over) which, overall, makes it the most memorable song on the disc. It may not sound like it, but I don't see the album as having any "horrible", tracks on it, despite how passionate I am about listing it's percieved faults. Take 2 or 3 of these songs at a time, and you could find - as I have - that they're perfectly enjoyable electro-pop tracks, free of any quality lifting it to stellar heights, but good enough to dance to. In fact, the whole album is really quite enjoyable providing there's ample alcohol flowing, people cavorting and it's safely nestled in the background away from the forefront.
As a fan of electronic music in it's various incarnations, I can imagine many others (like myself) feeling fairly short-changed when listening to it. To me, The Boxer is an album where you really do reap what you sow in terms of your expectation - go charging in blindly (expectating anything similiar to Bloc Party) and be knocked out, unable (or unwilling) to continue.
Deftly take your time, however, last all 12 rounds, and you may just find you're all the better for it. IF (and it's a rather sizeable "if") it's what you're into.