, June 21st, 2010 08:40
It's likely that there's going to be a certain contingent who've supported Kele Okereke in the past who are going to find it enormously difficult to process what he's gone and done here, so much so that cries of sellout are probably going to be unavoidable. Oddly, though, it's the exact reverse that's the case.
See, when Bloc Party started out, their gigs were miniature triumphs, casting them as champions of confrontation, sonic adventurism, and a somewhat starry savvy, which meant that Silent Alarm – 'Banquet' et al notwithstanding – rather disarmed with its conscientious hesitancy, unwieldy welding of earnestness and disengagement, and the unexpected minimalism of its musical palette. That's a standpoint, however, that they've retreated from fairly heartily in the years since, and The Boxer is the most convincing reclamation of Kele's original charms yet, and that it should take the form of an album more geared to Kiss than Xfm has a satisfying inevitability: he's been heading this way since 'Flux', and performances of 'One More Chance', surely the most note-perfect Italo house pastiche to trouble the charts in the best part of a decade, lent considerable credence to the assertion that only when he's dancing can he feel this free...
And so to this, a blisteringly liberated solo debut that takes clubland as its heartland and does so with such consummate ease that, frankly, the work that preceded it almost seems like an inappropriate apprenticeship. Much has been made of 'Tenderoni''s debt to 'Wearing My Rolex' (itself, lest we forget, even more significantly indebted to the work of DSK), but that serves to make it the ideal introduction to where he goes from here, seeing as how he's drawing on something excellently difficult and dirty-sounding and rounding things up with 45 seconds of quite absurdly lissom electro-pop. Indeed, it's only slightly mired by the mildly jarring delivery of the verses, but, thankfully, it's a problem that seldom rears its head throughout. Kele's voice might be treated to the heavens during 'On The Lam', but that suits its speed garage arsenal – now there's a phrase we didn't anticipate typing any time soon – while 'Everything I Wanted' sees him performing with a terrific taking-flight confidence (in both senses of the term), and his crescendos during 'Rise' are a superbly apposite gateway to its combustible launchpad techno.
Plus, it's hard not to view a certain significance to the fact that this album has emerged in the wake of Kele's recent decision to knock the ongoing speculation about his sexuality on the head, so whereas a sizable proportion of the tracklisting here could previously have just been taken as codification ('Unholy Thoughts' and 'All The Things I Couldn't Say' in particular), now this becomes an unambiguous exploration of identity and pride, and, consequently, it convinces all the more. The initial riffing on military marches that opens 'Walk Tall' is a masterstroke, and 'New Rules' is better still, shot through with a ravenous, experience-expanding glee, while the points where his all-change philosophy permeates the music entirely are a very real delight: 'Everything You Wanted' is a charming tapestry of buoyant squelches and jubilant piano that scuttles into proto-house territory, and 'Yesterday's Gone', arguably the most Bloc-happy offering here, finds a way to insert the angular, fractured poses of the post-punk that inspired his breakthrough work into a warmer, occasionally Human League-like framework.
Of course, whether or not dropping his surname will result in him having a profile closer to Beyonce or Jarvis is anyone's guess, but it's certainly a delight to be able to report that, long after those self-deprecatingly predicted two more years have passed, Kele's still been able to turn out an album that aims to be both laudable and likable, and primarily succeeds on both counts. Really, this is the album that he should have called Intimacy and, whatever the state of the Party after this, it's very much cause for celebration.