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Bloc Party
Hymns Josh Gray , January 28th, 2016 20:56

Bloc Party are dead, long live Bloc Party. After an escalating series of unfortunate events involving cocaine, 'musical differences' and no uncertain amount of good old fashioned hatred, the indie kings of yesteryear have decided to jettison drummer Matt Tong and bassist Gordon Moakes to replace them with 21 year-old Louise Bartle and Menomena member Justin Harris (an apt choice, given that Menomena are one of the few bands to experience a more bitter internal breakdown of relationships than Bloc Party). This was never going to be a Gallagher-esque reskinning; a couple of substitutions over half time after which the group could continue to operate without a serious overhaul in both band mentality and musical marksmanship. How could it be? Matt and Gordon were the musicians who gave us the inspired rhythm section interplay of 'Positive Tension' back in 2005.

For the surviving members then (that would be recovering melancholic Kele Okereke and the human coiffure Russell Lissack), this reboot provided both a challenge and an opportunity. An opportunity to draw the band back from the brink of perceived irrelevancy and produce a solid manifesto for the future of what seems to have been christened Bloc Party 2.0. To do this, the pair elected to leave the high-octane guitar anthems and dancefloor glitch-rockers that peppered recent releases Four and The Nextwave Sessions at the door, falling back instead on Kele's worn knack for a heart-on-sleeve confessional. Four had three of these; here there are seven. They range from the lukewarm odes to lost love ('Different Drugs' and 'Living Lux', both of which become far more interesting if you imagine Kele leaving them on his ex-bandmates' answering machines) to tepid odes to new love ('Only He Can Heal Me' and 'My True Name'). With nary a raised voice or trademark yelp in earshot, it's suddenly strangely easy to become nostalgic for the howls of Intimacy.

Lyrically Kele could not have journeyed further from the impenetrable angst that his younger self wore like a cloak. While once he used to cagily bat questions about his sexuality and love life away, 'Fortress' sees him vividly recounting the state of sexual nirvana he achieves with his current lover under the privacy of their sheets. It's nice to hear that Kele's finally settled down and achieved the perfection that his lyrics always seem to be striving towards (whether in a chemical, spiritual or sexual sense). But as the song progresses things begin to get just a bit too insightful as Kele commands his boyfriend to “reach down and feel how hard my love grows just for you”, an act that is performed willingly and with gusto judging by Kele's pained falsetto.

With his bandmate stuck in an overly-content funk, it should have been the golden-fingered guitarist Russell's job to add some bite to Hymns. Lead singles 'The Love Within' and 'Virtue' hinted that this album could be his opportunity to cement himself as one of greatest guitarists of the 21st century, their arresting synth hooks blowing minds everywhere when it was revealed that he was somehow managing to produce them on his six-string. Sadly these performances are outliers, and for the majority of Hymns' runtime Russell decides to play it safe and prop up Kele's uninspired musings like he's just another programmable component of an increasingly polished, synthetic entity.   

That the two longstanding partners can still lock together so seamlessly musically is nice and all, but it also highlights the essential ingredient missing from this half-baked album: chaos. Bloc Party is now an exercise in covalent bonding where it used to be a full-blown chemical reaction. The friction created by four distinct musical entities rubbing each other up the wrong way might have burnt down bridges, but for ten years it fed the engines that kept the band moving onwards. At times this process got the better of them, it has to be admitted, but compare the listless throb of 'Living Lux' to previous album closer 'We're Not Good People'. What the hell was that? When did they become Test Icicles? Bloc Party 2.0 can keep their newfound stability; I'll take the red pill thanks.