It’s strange to think how much Bloc Party have changed over the years. When I think back to Silent Alarm – the band’s seminal debut album – it’s difficult to take in what Bloc Party now sound like. Regardless of what you think about the band, it would be unfair to say that they haven’t reinvented themselves on more than one occasion. Whether this reinvention has been successful or not is a more ambiguous question.
Ever since the band has cleaved in two, bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong have moved on to other things. Moakes is still an active member of post-hardcore band Young Legionnaire, whilst Tong has since become a member of “dystopian-soul” pioneers Algiers. They’ve since been replaced with drummer Louise Bartle and bassist Justin Harris, who unfortunately haven’t managed to fill the original members’ shoes. Instrumentally speaking, the record feels completely soulless. I’m sincerely glad new drummer Louise Bartle hadn’t joined the band until after the album had been recorded, because Bloc Party truly don’t deserve drumming as bad as this. The percussive stylings of Hymns are the blandest and most primitive I have heard in a long time. Meanwhile, Justin Harris’ bass parts are ultimately negligible and don’t hold a candle to Gordon Moakes’ fluid, abstemious phrasings.
Lyrical flow has never been Kele Okereke’s strong suit. After Silent Alarm, it seemed apparent that he’d abandoned much attempt to make his musings rhyme. Yet I considered this excusable, as the lyrical depth of breadth of A Weekend In The City struck me as an emotional force one wouldn’t dare attempt to contain with the restriction of a rhyme scheme. You wouldn’t tell Walt Whitman to shut up and start rhyming. Obviously I’m not claiming Okereke is a wordsmith for the ages, but the introspective, immersive and utterly personal wonderings of A Weekend In The City were nothing if not impressive. However, the lyrics of Hymns have none of the grace of the band’s prior endeavours. The lyrics capture my attention, but for all the wrong reasons – Okereke’s lyrical stylings manage to come off as vapid and jarring simultaneously.
A notable example of this is during The Love Within. This is easily the worst song on the album, and Okereke’s cry of “The love within is moving upwards / So don’t you want to get high?” is as fatuous as it gets. The music is no better, featuring a synth-like bounce which is both aimless and half-baked, managing to go nowhere remotely interesting during the song’s near five-minute lifespan. Unfortunately many of the album’s tracks aren’t a great deal superior. Different Drugs is the equivalent of watching a clown juggle the same three oranges for five and a half minutes. The act is passable, but you certainly never make the mistake of anticipating that he’ll add some knives, a flaming torch or even a few more oranges into the act. He’s not going to drop them, but it’s about the least exciting thing you’ll see at the circus that day. Hymns’ final track, Living Lux, is instrumentally clumsy and lyrically bathetic, whilst Fortress sounds like some kind of watered-down B-side from A Weekend In The City.
Admittedly, it’s not all bad. So Real is a dreamy, tastefully restrained song, and one of the rare tracks which Russell Lissack actually gets to adorn with his slick, sparse guitar lines – one of the few redeeming features of Hymns. Virtue borrows the electronic underpinnings of The Love Within, and uses them as foundation upon which to build an uplifting and genuinely soulful lament of human weakness, whilst Exes is a touching ballad dedicated to past loves, and strikes me as one of the band’s finest songs in recent years. But unfortunately, by and large, Hymns is not a good record. Ultimately, Okereke’s final words on Exes sum up the album better than I ever could. “These words will fall short / But I must try.” I hope Bloc Party keep trying.