Their fifth studio album signals a fresh lineup for Bloc Party – drummer Louise Bartle replaces the virtuoso Matt Tong, whilst the band add American Justin Harris on bass to fill the gap left by Gordon Moakes. Do the new additions to the band bring promise for the future?
In an interview with Annie Mac back in October, Kele stated that Hymns sounded ‘like nothing we’ve done before’. He was speaking the truth; it’s no surprise considering the departure of Tong and Moakes that the album sounds like it’s by a new band. The simple, synth heavy, pop-rock leading single, ‘The Love Within’ really set the tone for the album. Boring. The band are no strangers to reinventing themselves and incorporating electronic influences into their work: although, when done in the past, the result often remained unique and interesting. Hymns represents a departure from the classic Bloc Party sound and a shift towards a stripped-back, toned-down, risk-free modern indie sound.
Kele’s vocals are as solid as always, although, almost all the tracks on the album are sung in his softer, falsetto, ballad-like style. The result is a more delicate, introspective and reflective album, glaringly arranged around Kele. In a way, this does give the album more cohesiveness than their previous record Four. This, however, is not synonymous with maturity. The youthful drug-centric lyricism of ‘Different Drugs’ is so straightforward it seems like a step backwards – ‘Would you drop with me/Would you blaze with me’. This paints a picture of Kele being stuck in the past, reminiscing of his long days at Kings or even longer nights at Reading Festival. ‘Exes’ furthers this introspective theme, ‘Fortress’ is intimate, yet comes off a bit whiny and ‘Living Lux’ sounds extremely synthetic – they could have been produced entirely by Kele, making me question the other members’ roles on these tracks. The album is clearly heavily influenced by Kele’s electronic solo work.
The real issue with Hymns is the instrumentation. Bloc Party have always been defined by their sharp sound, utilising signature guitar loops and intricate riffs, momentous grooves and attention-grabbing drum arrangements. This has always resulted in an exciting and interesting rock-indie sound. But not here. There are no eruptive, hard-hitting rock tracks like on their previous album, Four. In fact, the climax of the album – the chorus of the second single off the album, ‘The Good News’ – is if anything a bit of a anti-climax. The better tracks on the album are ‘Into The Earth’ and ‘So Real’, which a solid, progressive indie feel ever so slightly reminiscent of the old Bloc Party. Yet, it is hard not to focus on the massive void left by Tong. Bartle provides only simple drum beats on this album – they do the job as a straightforward, poppy accompaniment, but bring none of the exhilaration and intricacy you would expect from a Bloc Party record.
Overall, long-term fans especially will be disappointed by Hymns. Whilst a few delicate moments certainly do shine through, and it is a ’nice’ listen, it is clear that the original spark has been lost with the new Bloc Party. The band has changed, but it would be wrong to deem this an evolution. All comparisons of the past aside, the risk-free, poppy approach on Hymns surely leaves an unexciting, uninteresting and uninspiring impression on the listener.
by Jacob Fear