I must admit I approached the release of Trick with a cautious optimism. Kele’s single, Doubt, has received a fair bit of airtime on the radio over the past week or so, and showed signs that Kele was potentially beginning to mature into his own sound somewhat. It’s a sound that is almost unrecognisable from his work with Bloc Party. Whilst the 2012 release of Four heralded the band’s heaviest work yet, the guitars are entirely absent from Trick. In its place, Kele opts for two-step house beats, setting the stage for a rather vocal-heavy record.
The album opens promisingly; First Impressions represents a soothing, albeit somewhat clichéd, introductory track. It’s a subtle track, featuring an unknown collaborator whose vocals blend with Kele’s exceedingly well. Next comes the second of the two pre-released tracks from the album: Coasting. It’s another enjoyable piece, similar in tone to First Impressions with soft, deep-house beats underlying the vocals. The album is very much relationship-centric. Whilst Kele has been notoriously and understandably brusque when asked questions about his romantic life, this is very much an instance of him using his music to express this side of himself.
The third track from the album, and unfortunately what I believe to be it’s premature peak, is Doubt. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it bears some of the hallmarks of the seminal Bloc Party singles, with much of its strength lying in the chorus. The track builds nicely, the increasingly familiar drum beats are supplemented by a bouncing hook, and Kele’s vocals are peppered throughout. Nonetheless, it is at this point where, for me, the album starts to go somewhat stale.
This may seem an extreme departure from the positivity with which I met the album’s opening tracks, but there is a reason behind my frustration. The understated muffled house beats from First Impressions gave way to the more lucid electro hook in Doubt and gave the album an air of progression. There was a feeling that it could grow. Yet the tracks that followed failed to build upon the promising start the opening three pieces create. Instead, Kele seems to have almost lost much of what makes him such an intriguing and talented musician. Whilst Kele’s debut solo effort received somewhat mixed reviews, it was nonetheless ambitious. The grimey and mercurial beats from The Boxer have been subsumed by almost generic house beats. There is almost a feeling that it fizzles out as choruses become less enticing. Whilst the feeling behind Kele’s vocals remains, there is a sense that the music is no longer matching the enigma.
Kele’s talent is never in question, which is perhaps what makes this album all the more frustrating. For example, Closer and Like We Used To are not poor tracks. They’re enjoyable enough, to a point, but neither represents the sort of ambition or experimentation one might have hoped for from such an accomplished musician. It’s a theme that persists until the tenth and final track, Stay The Night, which somewhat appropriately, fades to an unceremonious close. I can’t help but feel that this album represents a real crossroads for Kele and his solo career. Whilst one average album is never enough to dismiss an artist, especially one of his repute, the next step he takes may be crucial in determining whether he fades or flourishes.
Kele’s solo work has been punctuated with some great tracks. Tenderoni and What Did I Do are enough to tell you that he is not only a diverse, but potentially dynamic songwriter. Nonetheless, if he is to prevail as a solo artist he will need to show more consistency and variety than he has with Trick.