See it like this. You want to make a more introspective album where you open up about relationships and religion. Sounds good, right? It’s a solid template, done well before without making it sound very boring on the instrumental or lyrical side. But Bloc Party don’t do that. It’s sad that I have to say the same things about another Bloc Party album that serves no real purpose. Maybe ‘serves no real’ purpose is a little too much, because what Kele Okereke is singing about is interesting, but instead of the powerful gospel hymns he’s trying to evoke, he sings like a bored primary school child trying to make their way through ‘He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands’. HYMNS isn’t devoid of emotion, there’s emotion and sadness in the lyrics, but the recent lineup change hasn’t revived Bloc Party in the way it should have. They might not need the frenetic energy that Silent Alarm or Weekend In the City brought, but that doesn’t mean they have to fill it with sleepy instrumentals and songs that never lift off the ground.
You might expect a few more fast paced songs to mix up the track listing, but HYMNS is consistently mid-paced. If that’s what Kele and co. were going for, then they achieved it, but for someone like me, who likes variation and an album to have distinguishable songs, it’s a hard listen. That’s not to say there aren’t glimmers of hope – the synths on ‘Virtue’ start as irritatingly as the squelchy electronics of ‘The Love Within’, but it grows as the song expands. Similarly, ‘Only He Can Heal Me’ is a pretty slice of indie-pop with gospel influences underneath, plus a guitar that finally catches the ear. The lyrics are also interesting, which is a consistency for Kele where he might not have always kept up the same quality on the instrumentals. It’s not so much political criticism, but themes of religion and love. Kele sings ‘These sheets of ours shield our bodies / like a fortress’ on ‘Fortress’ and ‘Only He Can Heal Me’ is full of religious hope when he feels his ‘spirit crumble’. Unfortunately, some awkward lines creep in at the sides: ‘I’m a fool for the sight / Of the gold between your thighs’ in the lusty ‘Fortress’.
Bloc Party didn’t need to do a ‘return to form’, they just had to use the new line-up as a chance to refresh their sound. In a way, they have a new sound, but it just isn’t up to much. Kele doesn’t sound as passionate as he used to, despite still writing just-as-passionate songs and the instrumental section seems to be asleep most of the time. The comparison back to Silent Alarm is lazy, but I’ll do it anyway – remember hearing ‘Helicopter’ for the first time and sitting up in your seat as that math-rock guitar seemed to be going the speed of light or when ‘This Modern Love’ was your introduction to indie-rock weep-songs alongside ‘Mardy Bum’? Bloc Party felt relevant and important, and not just because they were making music that was fast and aggressive. They had something to say, and they said it like they meant it. This Bloc Party has something to say, but they’re whispering it very quietly.
Sidenote: We listened to some of the deluxe edition songs after the main album and they’re very much in the vein of Kele’s solo project and aren’t too bad either. Check them out.
Funnel Recommends: Only He Can Heal Me / Virtue / Exes