I am not English. I have never been to London, and maybe I don’t really get what Kele Okereke means when he sings “Let’s drive to Brighton on the weekend.” I’m not going to pretend that I have any deep understanding of living in London, the very subject on which Bloc Party bases their new album, A Weekend in the City. The funny thing is if I hadn’t actually known this ahead of time, I would have just assumed that Weekend was more of a universal statement about the human condition.
Ah, but it is. Bloc Party may be from London, and their perspective may be of one within the city, but applied to the listener’s connection with the music, it could just as easily been a record about New York or Los Angeles. Since the band’s debut Silent Alarm, a thicker layer of fog has engulfed the band’s music, as they’ve turned toward slower, sadder arrangements and darker lyricism. On the dreamy, soaring “Waiting for the 7.18,” Okereke sings of “sitting in silence in bars after work” and clinging to “bottles and memories of the past.” People here are doing the same thing every night, only they’re driving to Montauk or Santa Barbara for the weekend.
“Hunting For Witches,” one of the few furiously rocking tracks on the album, was inspired by the Tube terrorist attacks in 2005, and the paranoia that followed. Over a danceable, bass-heavy melody, Okereke sings “I was sitting on the roof of my house, with a shotgun and a six pack of beer.” Sounds curiously American, doesn’t it? Of course, the Bret Easton Ellis inspired “Song for Clay (Disappear Here)” is intended to seem very L.A., with sarcastic lines like “remember to look bored” and more matter of fact ones like “cocaine won’t save you.” It may be earnest to a fault, but the immense arrangement saves it, creating a splendid epic rock song in the end.
First single “The Prayer” is an awesome highlight, finding some reprieve from Okereke’s long list of concerns with merely a damn good single, one with lyrics somewhere between emo confessional and hip-hop braggadocio: “I will charm, I will slice, I will dazzle, I will outshine them all.” Likewise, second single “I Will Remember” is both endearing love story and catchy pop nugget. I’ll admit, I didn’t take a shine to this one right away; it sounded too much like the new (boring) Snow Patrol album for my tastes. But with a few more listens, I began to appreciate the sparkling beauty of this track, and its honest account of the connection between two teenagers. Since Kele Okereke’s sexuality has been increasingly in focus of late, it’s become clear that the connection is between two boys. But just like the interchangeability between London and L.A., this personal exchange could apply to anyone.
The overall slower pace of the album does take some getting used to, and admittedly, there are a handful of tracks in which the intensity of “Banquet” or “Helicopter” are sorely missed. “On” is one of the few tracks that could legitimately be mistaken for Coldplay, and “Where Is Home?”, despite having a strong level of energy, doesn’t quite gel melodically. Yet when the band pulls off a gorgeous ballad like “Kreuzberg,” they prove their worth at switching styles, and their turn toward a glossier, more mature style should be applauded. There are likely to be many split opinions over this one; it was inevitable. A Weekend in the City is a very good album, but it’s not Silent Alarm. It would be a shame if anyone were to dismiss an album this powerful for that very reason.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.