Bloc Party are ever-changing.
New album 'Hymns' is a case in point. The band's first as Bloc Party 2.0 - with an altered line up and a fresh approach - it comes on the back of some epic, career-spanning live shows.
Due for imminent release, Clash thought it appropriate to revisit the band’s varied and divisive back catalogue ahead of their latest offering.
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‘Silent Alarm’ (2005)
Bloc Party’s first, and most critically acclaimed, project catapulted the quartet to the forefront of the mid-noughties indie rock explosion and forever imprinted their sound on the nation’s adolescent psyche. Capitalising on the buzz surrounding independent releases ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ and ‘Banquet’, the band took us on a near flawless fifty-minute journey through the pressures and triumphs of modern living as a young adult on their spectacular debut.
Jagged guitars and an explosive rhythm section characterized much of the album - a perfect complement to the urgency in Kele Okereke’s voice - while the latter stages showcased the versatility Bloc Party would go on to demonstrate over the next decade. From the irresistibly danceable lead riff on ‘Helicopter’ and the raucous contribution of ex-drummer Matt Tong on ‘Like Eating Glass’ to the lush layered guitars of ‘So Here We Are’ and the lullaby-like ‘Blue Light’, Bloc Party proved they could do it fast, they could do it slow – they could just do it.
And with over a million copies sold, quite a few people agreed.
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‘A Weekend in the City’ (2007)
Album two ushered in the polished and the personal as Bloc Party sought to break away from the restrictive parameters of what it meant to be an indie rock band at the time. Electronic elements rose to the fore and the crisp production values were a nod to the glossy hip-hop and R&B sounds of the era. Intimate accounts of sexuality, substance abuse and political angst accompanied the grandiose soundscapes as Okereke attempted to counter what he felt were the overly abstract lyrics of their debut record.
The changes jarred for some, with the album criticized in certain quarters for lacking the bite of 'Silent Alarm', yet it remained unmistakably Bloc Party. ‘Hunting For Witches’ stutters into existence with a garbled loop of newscaster soundbites and cascading synths before launching into a killer riff that fans of ‘Helicopter’ will instantly feel at ease with, while the gently uplifting progressions of ‘Sunday’ and ‘I Still Remember’ are Bloc Party at their purest and most effective. It was an older, bolder and more relaxed Bloc Party and seemed the logical progression for a band about to take up residence in the pantheon of indie greats.
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If ‘A Weekend in the City’ was Bloc Party dipping a toe into the water of electronic music, ‘Intimacy’ was them tombstoning off the Cliffs of Dover into a synthesized English Channel. The bulk of the record has processed drum beats working overtime to maintain the energy set by startling opener ‘Ares’ and the diminished role of Russell Lissack’s guitar work made the album a challenge for fans to embrace.
Tender moments can still be found in the likes of ‘Biko’ and ‘Signs’, while ‘Halo’ and ‘Talons’ hark back to the distinctive type of high-energy evoked in Bloc Party’s earlier work, but there was no denying the darlings of indie had gone in a vastly different and not altogether convincing direction. Undoubtedly Bloc Party’s most polarising project, the reception was predictably mixed and an indefinite hiatus following its release left fans fretting over the future of their heroes.
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They weren’t done at three however, and four years later released what would prove to be the last hurrah of Bloc Party in its original form - with Matt Tong and Gordon Moakes departing in 2013 and 2015, respectively. ‘Four’ was the band’s attempt to return to fundamentals after lukewarm reception afforded to ‘Intimacy’, and it was, on the whole, a successful endeavour. Electronics were used sparingly, with guitar work once again taking centre-stage and producing some of Bloc Party’s heaviest moments to date in ‘Coliseum’ and ‘3x3’. The balance between hard and soft demonstrated in their earlier work returned, with the likes of ‘Day Four’ and ‘The Healing’ sitting comfortably among the quartet’s prettiest pieces.
But there remained the nagging sense that something was missing. It had been seven years since Silent Alarm roared into our lives and the space Bloc Party once occupied with their frenetic, anxious energy had morphed and evolved. Bloc Party had succeeded in recapturing the aesthetic of their glory years but the climate, and indeed their fan base, had changed and the result was an ever-so-slightly-hollow return to form.
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Words: Michael Stevenson
Bloc Party's new album 'Hymns' will be released on January 29th.