Have you ever listened to a song or an album in which the lyrics seemed to define your life perfectly at that moment? This album is that for me right now.
This British foursome had to follow up on a huge debut success. Silent Alarm broke genre barriers, strengthened the argument that European, specifically British-born music is better than American music, and opened discussion about Bloc Party's potential as the next great rock band. Their first album was innovative, smart, catchy pop-rock that was as fresh as it was influenced.
The second album has a lot of the same elements as their first, but it has a distinctly different sound overall. Kele, the lead singer, has said that in this album they tried to capture the various happenings and feelings of the city, which they've accomplished pretty well (if the music doesn't make you feel like you're in the business of a city, read the lyrics). But in general, the album is much darker in subject, a little less varied in sound, but pretty damn good in its completed composition (they do have a new producer...).
The album kicks off with the beat-driven "Song for Clay," which starts soft and ends in a cacophony. It gets the album off to a good start, and serves as an adequate transition from their last album; I like playing this song when starting a night out. "Hunting for Witches" incorporates mixed up radio and noise samples, along with a repetitive and loud chorus, which gets annoying quickly; this seems to be one of the emptiest tracks on the album. "Waiting For The 7:18" has some pretty touching lyrics about looking back, characterized by chimes, a cool drum beat, and full choruses, but bores me a little simply because the songs at this point have all begun slow/soft and eneded fast/loud.
"The Prayer," their first UK single, is one of the fastest songs on the album. It is reminiscent of "Banquet," with a less melodic verse structure, but with a sweeping chorus that almost saves the song from its less-than-genius verses and almost cringe-worthy bridges.
The fifth track, "Uniform," made me think of Coldplay's X&Y. Here's why: after a few listens of Coldplay's third release, I began to realize that all the songs on the album followed a formula, which goes like this: start slow, build up to a fast/loud/emotional middle, and end slow. I call it the X&Y formula (how clever!). It made me lose a lot of respect for Coldplay, although I have to admit it does work in some songs awfully well, such as "Fix You." But here, "Uniform" follows that pattern, which makes it so predictable! And Bloc Party were never predictable. I still kind of like the song though, so they're not all that bad at it.
Finally, Kele allows his vocals to shine through on the sixth track, "On," which, although the lyrics are less-than-enchanting, the music complements the vocals very well, and sounds more like the Bloc Party most people really seemed to like. Still not one of their stronger tracks, though.
"Where is Home?" is another disappointing track, and everytime I listen to this album now, I skip over it, simply because of the first minute or so. Kele's voice is distorted to a higher...screech almost, with ghoulish croonings hauntingly voiced in the background; clearly a mood is trying to be evoked in this song, but I don't care--it's not fun to listen to. Granted the chorus is kind of cool (this is Bloc Party), but the rest, and the "guitar solo" at the end ruins it.
The last four tracks of this album are why I would ever rate this album moderately high; I love the last four tracks. Despite my somewhat dismal reviews of the preceding tracks, here's the thing about this album: it's much better when listened to front to back than it is when listened to in bits and pieces. It's as if the album follows the day, with the first track representing the morning and the last representing the night. The first track looks back on his life and wonders what if, and if given another chance, what he'd do over...then he's waiting for the bus and asserting his "unstoppable" will, after which he eventually comes down and looks back again, then perhaps makes a conclusion about his life, or at least becomes honest with himself about it.
"Kreuzberg" is where he makes a decision:
"I have decided at 25And ruminates over his meaningless social interactions and the loneliness that results:
That something must change..."
"After sex the bitter tasteFor me, this is my favorite type of Bloc Party's music, the "Blue Light," "This Modern Love," and "So Here We Are" Bloc Party--the softer, more melodic, lyric-based stuff. This is where their strengths really shine, in my opinion. Kele really sounds like he's figuring it out in this song, and we begin to feel a shift in the music's mood.
Been fooled again, the search continues
Concerned mothers of the west,
Teach your sons, how to truly love."
"I Still Remember" is an extension of this mood, lyrically at least. The words focus on regrets about a lost love, but the tempo and the instrumentation are paradoxically upbeat; perhaps, despite the regrets, there lies an optimism.
"Sunday" offers a promise to love her in the morning, after all the shit's that happened. Yeah, there are a lot of things going on that suck, and we've definitely made some mistakes, but when we're together everything can be okay. That's basically the message; the song is very layered, with a good melody under Kele's vocals. After the last, and most important verse,
When I'm with you, I am calmThe guitar cranks up out of nothing, creating quite the moment and really driving home the passion of his love.
A pearl in your oyster
Head on my chest a silent smile
A private kind of happiness
You see giant proclamations
Are all very well
But our love is louder than words
"SRXT" is my favorite song on the album. Although the subject is the most morose of all the tracks--he's basically talking about killing himself the whole time, or at least the death of a phase of his life--it presents the best moment on the entire album.
I've always debated with myself whether the best music is made up of almost transcendent moments that take your breath away, or just really good consistency (that's harder to explain). For example, I love the song "Ants Marching" by DMB, but there isn't really a particular moment that takes hold of me, I just love the whole song, and become energetic and happy when I listen to it. But there's a certain pluck of the guitar in "Untitled #4" that gets me every time, and this song has a similar moment.
The whole song builds up to it; he's talking about how he was telling his friend how he's drowning in his sorrows, recounting memories and the reasons why he's sad and discouraged. Then the band stops, and at 3:01, up comes the guitar into an explosion of the band's full power....
Suddenly, the rest of the album makes sense.