Bloc Party's 'Hymns' Fails to Live Up to Expectations

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016 at 6:23 PM
Bloc Party's 'Hymns' Fails to Live Up to Expectations by Britton Rozzelle

“Hymns” is a fine album, for all intents and purposes. It is not, however, a fine Bloc Party album.

This new LP, the fifth full-length by the indie-rock powerhouse, presents nothing particularly exciting or surprising. Frankly, its biggest problem is how entirely safe it is. Kele Okereke’s vocals haven’t changed one bit since 2005, presenting each song with dramatic transitions from a brilliant bass to a soaring falsetto, and remains one of the strongest points of this album.

“The Love Within,” the album’s introduction, is perhaps the sole shining star of the first half of the record, and our first look into this new dance-centered track list, with free-flowing synths and a siren-like hook that grows on you after a few listens. It’s worth noting that “Hymns” is, lyrically, the band’s most intimate album yet, with references to spirituality mixed in specifically on “Only He Can Heal Me,” a track with a darkly seductive beat contrary to its faith-inspired lyrics, and references to an unnamed lover (or lovers) on almost every other song on this LP.

“So Real” takes us on a journey through loss and confusion and is the most Bloc Party-like song on this whole album, while “The Good News” has nothing particularly interesting to it other than a confusingly western-inspired hook, with country-styled guitar twangs hiding behind the repetitious chorus. The tone of the album, almost immediately, changes into something more down tempo and intimate with “Fortress,” a song about longing that is stylistically different from almost everything Bloc Party has done before, with Okereke’s vocals almost exclusively in a higher range than usual. It serves as a fine transition to “Different Drugs,” a track with an infectious drum beat that I fully anticipate will be remixed to the moon and back by next month.

“Into the Earth” sounds almost like an I Am Not a Gun song with vocals, featuring smooth guitar chords and a simple baseline and drum that change enough to be interesting to sit through, evoking obvious memories of beaches or road trips. “My True Name” continues with a strong focus on guitar, with almost every other instrument and the vocals taking a backseat, while “Virtue” takes us back to the highpitched synth that populated the first half of the album, albeit to a greater success, and may be my favorite song on the record.

“Exes,” the penultimate song on “Hymns,” seems like it would fit better on some other album. It’s so far removed from the sound Bloc Party built, that if, at this point, you were a fan of the band but haven’t accepted the fact that they’ve changed, it would be a good time to do so or else you’re just going to disappoint yourself.

“Living Lux,” the final track, seems to attempt a callback to the powerful conclusion of prior song “Complements,” but fails to produce anything resounding or meaningful through its runtime, much like “Hymns” itself.

Bloc Party’s fifth album is, as it stands, not a fantastic edition to their library. If this album had been produced by a new, dance-focused alternative band, maybe I would feel differently.

Objectively speaking, this album is a fine addition to the long library of alternative albums that have been released this week, but, if you’re like me and have been a fan of Bloc Party for a while, I have one bit of advice: give up, because “Silent Alarm” is never happening again.

Britton Rozzelle is The Arts Editor for The Spectator and he can be reached at ae.spectator@gmail.com.

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