Thursday, February 22, 2007

Records In Review: Bloc Party--A Weekend In The City

Third attempt at writing this. I hate second-album reviews, I do!

In many ways, A Weekend In The City is your typical second album. The instrumentalism is more restrained and contained, the production more polished (the toms don't sound like damp suitcases, and the drums in general aren't wrung through the phaser so much), and the influences worn less on-sleeve. Speaking of influences, the usual suspects are present, albeit with the dubby P.I.L. thang dialled back appreciably, and my ears can detect a smidgen of stadium-era P. Furs on a track or two ("I Still Remember"), which isn't surprising given that Weekend's a record that speaks much more to an arena environment than did its predecessor. More space and sweep, less grunt, scratch and skronk. About half of the record I'd describe as Coldplay for people who have a pulse.

I can't say I'm particularly enamoured of the bigged-up sound. To each his own, perhaps, but one of the things I found most interesting about Silent Alarm was the juxtaposition of the occasional emo/grandiose tendency with an attitude toward arrangement that often surprised you with sonic contrasts between sections (see "Pioneers" below) and between tracks--particularly helpful with a band like BP who aren't really "about" the finer details of songcraft. Here, a lot of that's been ironed out. The emphasis on Weekend is on less detail-driven quiet/loud/louder sectional contrasts, some of which aren't exactly subtle in their execution ("Hunting For Witches," "SRXT"). SA left itself more sonic wiggle room at the micro-level and thus avoided sounding like slush.

If Silent Alarm had a slight emo tendency, its successor has a full-blown melodramatic one that's only barely reined in. The episodic "Uniform" is a case in point and while the individual bits of it are pretty good, the whole is long-winded and not entirely convincing. I never paid much attention to the lyrics on SA, beyond twigging to a few overt political commentaries, but holy crap, Weekend sees singer Kele Okereke morphing into Morrissey v. 2.0 (the upgrade capable of throwing a couple of punches before getting beaten up). A fair amount of languor, and a hell of a lot of insecurity-borne yearning. And I can only ingest so much yearning before my body cries out for a Hives-flavoured palate cleanser. This is stuff that takes itself very seriously indeed. Too seriously.

Objectively, the material's at least as consistent as that of Silent Alarm (which admittedly ran out of gas in the last third). As with the latter, the best stuff is in the middle of the running order. Of the songs in the more reflective and atmospheric vein, "On" and "Kreuzberg" are the best, the former being particularly pretty. "Sunday" is all right but sounds too much like "Kreuzberg," from which it's only separated by one song. "I Still Remember" is currently my favourite track, very simply structured, with a simple but effective vocal melody, and a good fit with the bigger-stage production style without sounding bombastic. "Waiting For The 7.18" is also very good, and probably the most successful example of the aforementioned loud/soft contrast thing. Single "The Prayer" is pretty good and catchy, but certainly is bombastic, sounding as it does like overproduced Killing Joke. You can probably intuit from my language that I don't think there's as much a-list material on offer here as on SA.

I've dithered over this album much more than I usually do, and frankly, if someone came to me with a substantially dissenting opinion I'm not sure I'd put up much of an argument. Some of it's indeed a matter of taste. All I know is, a year and a half later and I'm still listening to Silent Alarm, and after two weeks I've already grown weary of about half of this one. Recommendation: I report, you decide.

P.S. Good review here, even if I disagree with the conclusions.

mp3: Bloc Party--"Hunting For Witches" (from A Weekend In The City)
mp3: Bloc Party--"Waiting For The 7.18" (from A Weekend In The City)

mp3: Bloc Party--"This Modern Love"(from Silent Alarm)
mp3: Bloc Party--"Pioneers" (from Silent Alarm)

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