Bloc Party – A Weekend In The City

Music — By on March 12, 2007 at 12:00 am

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Sports aficionados, being the stereotypical macho and perpetually optimistic fans that they are, have few real fears, but those they do have are large and are backed by a wealth of tragic, not easily forgotten historical antecedents. And with the possible exception of a highly productive fan favorite leaving the team due to free agency, nothing scares the daylights out of fans more than a sophomore slump. For those folks who don’t quite understand the meaning of that term, a sophomore slump occurs when a player has an outstanding first year, performing well beyond the means and abilities of the average rookie, and then performs horribly in his/her next season. There’s simply nothing more frightening than watching the future of your preferred sports franchise have a great year and then stink it up in subsequent years. Those situations are always very painful to live through, since they suck the life right out of you.

Music fans have the same trepidation in regards to their new favorites. No one likes to have their preferred “it” band release a sub par album after a debut that showed so much promise and was so much more than people expected. Granted, in this day and age, what with MySpace, YouTube, and similar organic, yet overhyped forums, it’s easy to blur the line between the current flavor of the week and a group with real talent and artistic ability. It takes a disciplined music listener to know who’s worth something and who might just be a flash in the pan. Nevertheless, when faced with the imminent release of a hot band’s second album, I’ve known many a hipster go into convolutions with terror.

And there has rarely been a period where a deluge of anticipated sophomore records everywhere has tested the ears of critics and fans as they have been from Fall 2006 to Spring 2007. From the release of Sam’s Town by The Killers to Some Loud Thunder from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah to The Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible, the indie rock nation has been tortured with determining whether to believe the hype, bless the effort unabashedly, or jump off the bandwagon as soon as possible. Thus, the release of A Weekend in the City by the hyperkinetic and ridiculously catchy Bloc Party is at the mercy of this same sense of apprehension.

But allow me to allay your fears – this album is no sophomore slump, not by any stretch of the imagination. Kele Okereke and the boys have managed to exceed my expectations by blowing my preconceived notions right out of the water, in that, as opposed to creating another album chock full of fun, danceable songs that all could be singles in their own right, they have created a complete album, full of a maturity and depth that wasn’t quite present on Silent Alarm.

From the opening track “A Song For Clay (Disappear Here),” the band sounds more urgent in their desire to speak what’s on their hearts and minds. Refusing to indulge in cheap polemics and over-the-top grandstanding, the men of Bloc Party speak openly and candidly about living on the streets of England and how they view the world around them. Oh, there might be some grandiose concepts rife with youthful idealism (“The Prayer” and “Uniform”), but it’s done in hopes of cultivating a spirit of camaraderie amongst their often-apathetic peers. And what stands out on this disc, more than anything else, is the fact that they refused to rest on their musical laurels – the prior formulas are tossed out the window as the musicianship has become tighter and more developed. The fervency and insane energy that ran throughout Silent Alarm has been sharpened here on A Weekend in the City as the band has allowed themselves to grow and find their own signature sound.

Are there weak spots? Absolutely. The second half of the album, though noteworthy in the ambitious themes running through those songs, lags a bit more than it should towards the end of the album. There are times when the band sounds like it might be biting off more than they can chew. Okereke does a remarkable job attempting to write songs that sound like what a Smiths-era Morrissey may have written if he had been a black Brit in the early 21st century, but it often doesn’t work. The band wanders far a field when they employ harsh and unnecessarily cynical lyrics in songs like “Where Is Home” – “I want to stamp on the face of every young policeman/to break the fingers of every old judge/to cut off the feet of every ballerina/but I cannot/so I just sigh and I just sulk/and I pretend that there’s nothing wrong.” Such exaggerated attempts to chronicle their feelings about the wrongs in the world seem out of place when compared to their general writing style. Bloc Party might need to remember that the use of sneaky subtlety and playful nuance can often drive one’s point home more easily and effectively than angrily berating someone to their face.

All that said, A Weekend in the City finds Bloc Party exactly where they should be – making songs that people will want to sing, shimmy, and shake along to. Fans of Silent Alarm should find themselves pleasantly surprised here, because no one wants to hear a talented band sink into a rut. So, unquestionably, this album is by no means a sophomore slump. This 2005 Musical Rookie Of The Year candidate has come out swinging, and is doing so for average and power.

Rating: 8.1 out of 10.0

To purchase a physical copy of this album, please visit Vice Records.

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    11 Comments

  • wilsonian says:

    Thank you for writing reviews that appeal to the musically uneducated too. :)

  • hey adam p. beautiful baseball analogy. i, too, was worried about the potential of a weak second showing from Okerke and gang. i actually had this CD in my HANDS at the store the other day but decided against it due to a rash of recent music purchases. but reading this, i know i will own it soon enough. i think it’s great to have musicians saying what’s on their minds as opposed to writing songs about ‘garbagaeic’ teeny-bop topics that sell well.
    kudos, mister newton.
    p.s. one thing i found feather-ruffling was ‘waiting for the 7.18′ having a sudoku reference – hopefully modern rock’s first and last. oh okerke. you silly musical politician.

  • Wilsonian — I do my best to write reviews that are accessible to all, even Canadians who’ve chased away one of their baseball teams.
    And yes yes, Mr. McKechnie. I would entirely agree with you & Kele’s’ sudoku reference — quite silly and quite the opposite of timeless. I don’t want to have to explain to my kids in a couple of decades what the fleeting trend of sudoku was.

  • wilsonian says:

    LOL! They play with the wrong shape of stick ;)

  • Poor les Expos…. They never got a fair shake…. Granted, their turf ruined Andre Dawson’s knees & Olympia Stadium wasn’t fit to house a cattle auction by the time the team moved to become the Washington Nationals, but still…. I’m not sure that Montreal ever really appreciate them.
    Now, those Toronto Blue Jays; they’re another story. At least they HAVE 2 World Series titles….

  • Bob says:

    Save the baseball talk for the sports section, boys. I want to talk about how much I am bored to tears by Bloc Party.
    As I told AP Newton, they are another in a long line of bands that would probably sound exciting to me if I had never heard Gang of Four, the Clash, Ride, PiL, or My Bloody Valentine.
    Just my opinion though.

  • bob – i think your accusation toward bloc party, though well-founded, may be bordering on music snobbery. i TOTALLY hear you – there are way too many bands right now who sound like/wish they were The Flaming Lips (Killers, Modest Mouse, etc.) and that sound can only be replicated so many times until it’s completely unoriginal.
    bloc party, on the other hand, seem to be a stick in the side of a lot of famous musicians and i LOVE that. jack white, for instance, and okerke of Bloc Party seem to be in a constant duel about whether politics have a place in music or not.
    their sound, though somewhat influenced by a lot of brit new wave, seems to be fairly progressive and if you compare SA with WITC, you’ll their growth.
    on top of all this (and one of the coolest facts about the Bloc) is that Okerke, lead singer, is of African descent – he’s black. i think that is ULTRA cool because when you hear his voice, in a song, one would totally think or assume he is a skinny, dishevelled white british man with a fo-hawk and wearing a business suit. i never knew that until i saw them live last summer.
    i think that fact, in itself, stands for what Bloc Party are trying to do – breaking down cultural norms and barriers with their voice-heavy music.
    how’s that bobber? get ready for The Fall review. it’s going to rattle you.
    *matt quietly hopes adam reads the article and desperately seeks his approval*

  • Bob Ham says:

    I really wish I understood what the race of the lead singer of Bloc Party had to do with anything, but, maybe I’m misunderstanding.
    I think the recent interview in Pitchfork with Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz, The Good, the Bad, & the Queen) that I read recently said it better than I could:
    Pitchfork: You know, I was listening to this new Bloc Party album over on the plane, which is also conceptually about London…
    Albarn: Yeah, I read some ridiculous thing in The Observer where the writer set the lead singer up as being the new voice of a generation. Which you shouldn’t do before a record is even released. It’s really unfair. You can’t do that. Let it become that if it is that, encourage that, but don’t write some big edict about why it should be. Music journalism shouldn’t do that.
    Pitchfork: It was really interesting, though, listening to these two incredibly different takes on the same subject matter– theirs being extremely angular, with all those riffs and drums and heavy lyrics…
    Albarn: Yeah, you need to get out of that at some point in your life.
    Pitchfork: But the interesting thing was that it seemed to come at the expense of tunes.
    Albarn: Yeah, I agree with you. I actually listened to it after reading that. I went on to the internet, which I hardly ever do, and realized I could actually hear something that I had read about immediately, which is quite good. Their songs are four riffs put together. The melody is never quite…their choruses….I don’t use choruses that much anymore, well, not on this record anyways.
    Maybe what they were trying to do was get across their idea more then weighing themselves down with making beautiful music. Which is one approach, but it’s different from what we’ve been doing. And yes, the melodies do get obscured a lot of the time. Melodies are very important things, really– they’re like keys. There are some melodies that have been around forever, so there must be something in them. It’s not like the body, it’s an idea– it’s eternal.

  • bob
    well, i guess if damon albarn says Bloc Party lacks melodies, it MUST be true. we must believe every criticism that older, more experienced musicians hand out towards other younger musicians because they’re always right. and if PITCHFORK published it, by gum, it’s the gospel.
    i’m sorry you misunderstood my idea about Okerke’s race. let me re-quote myself:
    “on top of all this (and one of the coolest facts about the Bloc) is that Okerke, lead singer, is of African descent – he’s black. i think that is ULTRA cool because when you hear his voice, in a song, one would totally think or assume he is a skinny, dishevelled white british man with a fo-hawk and wearing a business suit. i never knew that until i saw them live last summer. i think that fact, in itself, stands for what Bloc Party are trying to do – breaking down cultural norms and barriers with their voice-heavy music.”
    there will always be opposition to something well-received by pop culture.
    matty

  • Bob Ham says:

    Hey, Matt…the fact that those comments were by a “famous” person and that they were published in Pitchfork has NOTHING to do with why I thought they were prescient. They just happened to spell out exactly what I was thinking about BP in a much better way than I could have.
    As well, the fact that is popular has nothing to do with my distaste for their music. There is plenty of popular music that I do love and appreciate (Justin Timberlake, Postal Service, Sufjan Stevens). I just don’t like what BP does, plain and simple.
    I tried to get into their stuff considering the number of people I knew and respected (yourself included) that love their music. So, I went and saw them in concert and I was bored silly. It was the most audience-baiting and slick performance that I have seen in a long time and it really left me feeling empty. I left halfway through because it all felt like posturing and any moments that worked in the performance were overshadowed by about half a dozen moments that felt contrived.

  • hey bob…yeah, re-reading my comments, i sure do sound like a jackass. i tend to take things too personally at times. sorry bout that!
    BP is not for everyone, for sure – the same goes for all reputable bands. different strokes for different folks, etc. im sorry your live experience with them was dismal. my experience of seeing them live last summer was the polar opposite of yours.
    you rule mister ham

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