So this is Bloc Party v2.0? This is a band synonymous with prolonged hiatuses and what would appear a tumultuous internal conflict that saw original members Matt Tong and Gordon Moakes leave the band in 2013 and 2015 respectively. Founder members Kele Okereke (guitar/vocals) and Russell Lissack (guitar) regrouped with new bandmates Justin Harris (bass/keys/vocals) and Louise Bartle (drums) to produce fifth LP ‘Hymns’ – although Bartle joined the band after the record’s completion.
Bloc Party has always been chameleon like; they’re an outfit that can rattle out frenetic post-punk, heartstring pulling anthems, dancefloor smashers and with their last album in mind – monstrous rock. ‘Hymns’ is the antithesis to ‘Four’; where the group’s previous output was feral and easily the group’s heaviest body of work to date, their fifth outing is the whisper to ‘Four’s primal scream – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Let’s face it, ‘This Modern Love’ and ‘So Here We Are’ from seminal debut album ‘Silent Alarm’ easily measure up to Bloc Party’s more upbeat moments like ‘Helicopter’, ‘Flux’ and ‘Kettling’. The issue with ‘Hymns’ is that there’s limited light and shade – the usual punch and oomph has been replaced by minimal soundscapes and tracks that get up to mid-pace but not much more. The group’s flirtations with electronics has been widespread since their inception, however this album could be closely associated with Okereke’s solo work and not the end result of his day job or to put it another way, this choice lyric is indicative of ‘Hymns’ modus operandi: “rock ‘n’ roll has got so old”.
With a band on their fifth record, you look to their latest album with the expectations of what new tracks will make it into their live set. Bloc Party are a captivating live band and one that’s grossly underrated, so it’s going to take big songs to muscle in on a well-established set list. The likes of ‘Only He Can Heal Me’ and ‘Different Drugs’ are the ones that should make the cut – thanks to the former’s galloping beat akin to a languid ‘Mercury’. The former is an atmospheric moment that’s draped in a subdued hue but the delicate hum swells with a subtle intensity and one that matches Okereke’s pained vocals. If ‘The Good News’ gets a shot of adrenalin, it’s country-esque stomp could prove to be a further introduction to group’s pending world tour. Other than that ‘Hymns’ has little left that would enhance the Bloc Party experience.
Sonically, ‘Hymns’ perhaps doesn’t fulfil expectations but vocally Okereke sounds the strongest he’s ever been – you get the impression after two solo LPs the frontman has grown confident with his singing ability and it shows. Lyrically ‘Hymns’ embellishes on the intimate; relationships – both doomed and nourishing, salvation and healing, themes of narcotics are common factors, as is the notion of religion – which is to be expected given the album’s name.
Akin to a new software release Bloc Party v2.0 isn’t without it’s bugs, although there are some cool features you’d want to keep hold of. Let’s just hope the next instalment provides the right fixes.
Words and thoughts of Adam Williams