With their sixth studio album, Bloc Party have tried to recapture the essence of their brilliant debut they burst onto the scene with. Unfortunately, it merely represents a stunted development in the band’s evolution.
When lyrics from a track off Bloc Party’s latest album, Alpha Games, first began to circulate, it was a somewhat uncomfortable moment for the band and their fans.
“Maybe Bloc Party just shouldn’t do lyrics anymore,” one writer quipped, attaching the words to the single in question, ‘Traps’. These lyrics hinted at the possibility of an outdated group who were out of ideas; not least about how to write about women, instead talking about meeting “in the boom boom room” and – that often-used phrase – “lick-lick-lick lickety spit”.
It seemed a shame for a group that had hit us with some brilliant albums in the past, including their superb studio debut Silent Alarm, which were able to blend a poetic verve with boisterous energy. Maybe the poetry had faded.
Maybe Bloc Party just shouldn't do lyrics anymore. pic.twitter.com/ZQEEY9IWRJ
— Niall Doherty (@niall_mdoherty) March 15, 2022
Thankfully it seems the track in question, Traps, isn’t the marker for the whole album, which to be fair sounds a lot better than its lyrics read in isolation. The fact the track that follows, ‘You Should Know the Truth’, is actually rather good – reminiscent of a meatier Two Door Cinema Club in their heyday – however, epitomises this album. It’s a listening experience that takes two sonic steps forward and one step back.
What’s often been so enjoyable about Bloc Party is their early-twenties energy, capturing an inbetweeners spirit of being mature enough to get pissed, but without the responsibility of grown adulthood. This has often been driven by frontman Kele Okereke’s piercing vocals that unleased all manner of revelry.
It seemed the band were still unwilling to grow up just yet too, albeit 17 years on. Instead, their aim was to rekindle that same intensity that had first gained them our affection and attention, after they were inspired by a tour of their debut in 2019 to make another album.
But now, somewhat older and refusing to grow up, there’s something whiny, even melodramatic at times. ‘The Girls Are Fighting’, for instance, is like an unsuccessful spin-off of Blur’s classic ‘Girls & Boys’, dividing the girls and the boys like we’re all back in the playground. It’s lazy – and quite dull.
There are some more encouraging moments; tracks which both sound inspired from the band’s previous successes, yet have an innovative nod toward the future, and the quartet’s evolution. ‘By Any Means Necessary’ and the subsequent ‘In Situ’ have enjoyable synth elements which combine with some of the more interesting guitar work on the project.
Given Bloc Party have often given us a lot of spirit and vigour, it’s been their softer tracks that have worked well to counterbalance their albums overall. (‘So Here We Are’ remains one of the best on Silent Alarm). Thankfully, Bloc Party repeated this, by concluding Alpha Games with the more mellow, soulful track (at least for three quarters of it), ‘The Peace Offering’.
Perhaps somewhere, deep down, this concluding track was titled as such because, whilst trying to recapture their former glory, they haven’t quite hit the mark.