Bloc Party return after a four year absence. During this hiatus, they have lost their entire rhythm section (replaced by bassist Justin Harris and with Louise Bartle now on drums) and played a handful of shows last year to showcase their new lineup and material. The first release from the album, ‘The Love Within’, was an arrow through the heart for fans hoping for a return to the original Bloc Party sound, but was this just a curve-ball or is their fifth album a complete reinvention?
Their last comeback album Four sounded like four different artists bickering over an overall sound. Hymns has at least cut down the amount of compromise, but this has created an even less interesting record.
As an outsider it could appear that front man Kele Okereke is the true ringmaster of the show called Bloc Party. Maybe guitarist Russell Lissack has fallen out of love with the type of guitar work that made him one of Britain’s most celebrated players. This is frustrating in the same way as Johnny Greenwood opting to twiddle some knobs on the latest Radiohead album; but then artists will always need to experiment. How much input did Harris and Bartle have in the creative process? Are they merely session musicians with the right look?
The production from Tim Bran and Roy Kerr (London Grammar and James Morrison) fits perfectly with the more tranquil, laid back moments like ‘Living Lux‘ and ‘My True Name’. Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden has been touted as an influence for the album, though this is rather questionable. Another source of inspiration is taken from Gospel music, (which helps to explain the album title) though this is not a band who have in some way been born-again. It’s not an over religious affair.
‘The Love Within‘, is simply the worst song on the album and they have made a massive blunder in using this as the first single. Can they win back the legions of fans who typed caps-lock attacks on the internet on discovering the sound of Bloc Party Mk II? The droning pop sensibilities just don’t work, but luckily this isn’t the template to base Hymns on. There are some tracks of real worth (honestly). ‘The Good News‘ is refreshing; Okereke tries out a new vocal style and Lissack shows off his brand new blues riff. Meanwhile ‘Fortress‘ is a peaceful ballad in the same vein as Prince’s original version of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ and ‘So Real’ has elements of their older guitar driven sound, but with an extra groove. There is a big creative hole in the middle of the album, but it regains some steam with the uptempo ‘Virtue’ before petering out once again. But even after repeated plays, there is so much lacking. What ever happened to the kind of choruses that made classics like ‘Two More Years‘ and ‘Flux’ such indie- disco stalwarts? They used to have such a sense of melody. Such a pity.
Hymns is just another step backwards for Bloc Party. It is almost ten years since they made a satisfying album. Sooner or later a generation of fans who fell in love with their hyperactive indie outcasts will just look elsewhere. The party has ended a long time ago and all that’s left are the stragglers who have overstayed their welcome. Can this new version of Bloc Party recover from yet another mediocre album or will they follow the lead of Razorlight?