Bloc Party A Weekend in the City

[Wichita; 2007]

Styles: Britpop, pop, indie rock and a hint of post-something or other
Others: Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, The Futureheads, The Rakes

A Weekend in the City is Bloc Party front man Kele Okereke’s attempt to boldly forge an artistic statement exploring the conflicting emotions and experiences of living in modern, hyper-urban London. Okereke addresses the vacuous, ‘soul sucking’ elements of East London’s hipster population and paints vivid portraits of physical encounters in grotty East End gay pubs – which, no matter what one thinks about the record, is a welcome exploration of sex within the frequently all too asexual indie scene – emotes on the place of non-white British youth within UK society on “Where is Home,” and describes the desire for escape from the incessant daily grind of work, pub, sleep, and repeat with “Waiting for the 7.18.”

It’s a mighty big mouthful that strives to explore personal, ideological, sexual, and national identity within the contemporary urban environment. But, when all’s said and done, the final result doesn’t entirely work as a brilliant statement by the voice of a new generation of literate, sensitive and emotive British youngsters -- even though the band seem aggressively intent on the idea. Instead, it sounds like a young group attempting to, rather haphazardly, find and define their identity after the massive success of their debut, Silent Alarm. And, like any young person trying to discover who they really are while making their way in the world during their twenties, it’s often over-emotional, glaringly awkward, periodically exciting, and occasionally a little embarrassing.

Musically, A Weekend in the City shifts away from the jagged, angular art-rock that made tracks like the debut’s “Banquet” and “Helicopter” work so well as pop songs that, while lacking the daring nature of the original post-punk groups they were aping, displayed an ability to craft decent tunes with an underlying aesthetic that served as welcome relief from the bland homogeneity plaguing the charts. A Weekend instead fuses electronic flourishes with the kind of epic, anthemic song structures favored by the UK guitar band masses. Tracks like lead single “The Prayer” come across as the 90-pound cousin of TV On The Radio’s beefy “Staring at the Sun,” while “Hunting for Witches” dabbles in jerky, middle-of-the-road breakbeats that require an injection of musical steroids for the notion to really work. The overall effect, on first listen, borders on cringe-worthy; given time, however, a hook, chorus, or idea rears its head to show a hint of gleaming promise, though ultimately fleeting.

Swallowing the messy, thematic concept and the attempts at electronic experimentation in one dose places A Weekend in the City smack-dab in that cluttered category of difficult second albums, bound to alienate a section of Bloc Party’s original fans, serve as another bullet for the haters to fire off, and, possibly, appeal to a select group responsive to the band’s new musical stylings. It’s a difficult album to love, or even like. But, for all its faults -- and there are many -- there is enough here to make one think that maybe, just maybe, Bloc Party are capable of making, with their third LP, the kind of challenging yet highly accessible pop album they think they’ve made here.

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