Bloc Party – A Weekend In The CityMusic — By Adam P Newton on March 12, 2007 at 12:00 am
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.