The release of Bloc Party’s eagerly awaited follow-up to their 2005 debut, Silent Alarm, has many anxious to see if they fall subject to the dreaded sophomore curse with their new album A Weekend in the City. Being one of the most talked and blogged about bands, Bloc Party’s A Weekend in the City has them trying to avoid being the favored flavor from Britain and hold their grip on the fans who helped them sell out numbers of shows touring with the Silent Alarm album.
Music has superstitions, just like other forms of entertainment. Symphony composers fear the “curse of the ninth,” which claims that the composer is destined to die soon after completing their ninth symphony.
Bands, in this case, have to fear the sophomore slump. It’s a curse that plagues artists who gain popularity and major hype with their debut albums. The expectations for the follow up albums are stressed and the pressure is on to recreate the original sound that hooked their critics.
Bloc Party’s first album grasped listeners with its subdued punk sound, intoxicating beats, and hooking lyrics, which were open to interpretation. Lead singer Kele Okereke’s lyrics stray from the abstract and become extremely literal on this album, seeming as if they could have been ripped out of his diary as he sat watching the news, hanging out at the mall, or being backstage at one of his shows, with major themes of the album being love, youth and drugs. They tend to be more revealing, but when sung lack the emotion felt on the last album.
“Sunday” is a love song that can warm any girl’s heart with the tender words “I love you in the morning, when you’re still hung over” while “Uniform” judges the youth that encompass much of their fan base, singing that “they all look the same” even though they are trying to be different.
Other songs take a stand on current events, with “Hunting for Witches,” a paranoid testament against terrorism, specifically citing the London bombings in the song, and “Where is Home?”, which follows the mind of a man angry at the crime, injustice, and hopelessness the world faces.
After a painful falsetto in the album’s opener “Song for Clay (Disappear Here),” saying, “in an age of modernity, I am trying to be heroic, as all around me history sinks,” the song leads into the formula sound that attracted so many fans at their start. Drums barge in, snapping Okereke out of his attempt to sing, which ends up sounding more like a wolf howling at the moon, and hits you along with an intense guitar riff.
The rest of the album, however, doesn’t necessarily follow through, seeming to lack a characteristic that Silent Alarm had.
Their signature sound, which had a static echo over the music, is missing and the album has a neater sound. The raw power of Okereke’s voice is also M.I.A. He plays with his voice on this album, trying to take his singing seriously instead of employing his rallying and frantic cries that evoked passion and made Silent Alarm a standout album. He also avoids the deep seducing baritone that was in their earlier single “She’s hearing Voices.”
Silent Alarm asked us if we were hoping for a miracle and the first single off the new album, “The Prayer,” brings a bit of hope. It starts off with a humming chant, which had many listeners addicted after the outstanding single “Banquet.” To hear the constant drumming and cutting guitars is comforting and a dash of electronica adds personality to the song.
It seems like it could be his pre-show ritual prayer, asking to make him unstoppable tonight. Yet that sophomore slump fear could be sensed with him asking to get the “power to impress” and asking “is it so wrong to crave recognition?” With the import of various bands from Britain, like the Arctic Monkeys and The Subways, they have to stand out to compete, which they do considering both bands are raw with a garage rock feel.
The album’s producer. Jacknife Lee, who worked on U2’s How to Dasmantle an Atmoic Bomb in 2004, could be responsible for the calmer sound used on Bloc Party’s new album. A hint of U2’s influence can be heard on the album’s second single “I Still Remember,” which has a cool pop sound appropriate for a Sunday drive. It lacks the adrenaline previous hits offered.
It seems Bloc Party fell to the stigmatizations of the sophomore slump. Maybe they tried too hard to evolve and impress. Their debut album presented a sound that was raw but refined that instantly hooked listeners searching for something new. Now the same listeners can enjoy some of the same elements but it might take a few listens to dig up what they are looking for.