REVIEW | BLOC PARTY – HYMNS (LP)
It’s been a hint over ten years since London four piece Bloc Party released their debut album, ‘Silent Alarm’, an album that caught the attention of so many that it became impossible for the band to live down. With each of the following four albums, comparisons have been made and over this period we have watched the band grow, in scale, maturity and evolve in terms of their stylistic choices. Now though, we are faced with their latest release, an album that is so shockingly different that were it not for front man Kele Okereke’s distinct vocal style it would be easy to mistake them for an entirely different band. To put it simple, Hymns is the greatest challenge yet, for both Bloc Party and their fans.
When ‘The Good News’ was first released as a single, fans were ruthless, it was hard to find a positive response to the piece. When the release of ‘The Love Within’ came around, a similar response followed and long term fans were in doubt of the future of the band they had come to love. Tied in with the replacement of now half the band, original members Matt Tong (drums) and Gordan Moakes (bassist) having departed during the hiatus between albums, it was impossible to tell if Hymns held the potential to win our hearts over for a fifth time. These doubts, for the opened minded turned out to be un-required, Hymns is an impressive album if you give it the chance. Once you get past the completely different sound behind the band have taken, and looked deeper into the transitions that they have worked through it is an album that makes a lot of sense. It may be a little heavy on the religious undertones at times, and often leaves you craving for those soaring breaks that were found throughout their previous albums, but hidden in this washed out album are hints of the Bloc Party that we have grown to love over the past decade.
Hymns has taken a slower, more introspective path to the heart than of the previous albums, with tracks each telling a deeply personal story, that collectively represent the changes that have overcome Okereke and the band. It is this consideration of change that is the best party of Hymns, for with the consideration of changes, and the changes that the listener notices enables the listener to identify where they themselves have changed since their first discovery of Bloc Party. Rather than being an album that is set to blow your mind as releases so frequently try for, it is a blatant attempt to encourage you to identify yourself with the band and observe both their and your own evolution during the past decade.
Tracks like ‘Exes’ and ‘So Real’, oozing in cathartic angst stand out in this sense, for where Okereke is clearly voicing lyrics about his own experiences and those around him, the angst in his tone becomes infectious and pulls you into the song. This turns a number of songs that, when lacking the context of the album, are quite bland, and turns them into a voice in your own head singing to you in a way that is impossible to avoid finding connections to. It’s this awkward open-ness to the material that makes up the album that acts as both the greatest strength and weakness of the album. It is so easy to paint your own memories onto the tracks, but there is nothing to pull you back to listen to the album and form memories around it itself. ‘Only He Can Heal Me’ is probably the greatest throw back on the album, the chanted backing vocals, and simple structure is reminiscent of the quieter times on previous albums. The only track that really has the strength to stand out on its own across Hymns is ‘Virtue’. It still lacks the energy that we have come to know and love from the band but it has a degree of audacious simplicity behind it that teases the highs that were found in previous works. It may never quite have that slamming impact that the listener comes to desire after such a tame album, but it offers sufficient power to remind us why it is we love Bloc Party. The greatest issue with the tracks on Hymns, is that in many ways they are a little too personal, and a touch too down trodden to ever really catch your attention on their own. Because these songs are, in all honesty a little forgettable, it is quite possible that this will be the Bloc Party album to be brushed under the bed in six months’ time. But that would be a waste of what is, deep down, an impressively interesting album. It’s not the party that people expected, but rather the introspective trip home after the once-a-year big party. Like remembering a long night out there are some stand out moments, but the more you linger, the better the memories get and the same applies to the nuanced moments found within Hymns. Sometimes you simple need to take things as a whole to really understand them.
By Ayden Measham-Pywell