We’ve recently discussed the many virtues of Bloc Party’s crucial debut LP Silent Alarm, now it’s time to take a big (and somewhat reluctant) step into the future with release their fifth album Hymns. This time, without the services of original, drummer Matt Tong and bassist Gordon Moakes, it’s never been more apparent that Bloc Party are a band anxious to move forward, and Hymns delivers a sound that is once again different to any other the band have produced. Rather than convolute things with elaborate, disorienting passages, let’s go through track by track and find out whether Bloc Party are still the band the once were.
Bloc Party take another turn on a constantly twisting discography with an album that tries desperately hard to be heartfelt, Hymns.
The Love Within
The first single is promising, and it must be said it’s quite impressive live, ramping up the tension from the get-go. However, the release, the moment when you are meant to let the song consume you leaves you searching for that emotional hit Bloc Party are famous for.
Only He Can Heal Me
This is a sure sign that Bloc Party have left behind the angst, and some of the melancholy for a boppier, but still edgy, pop sound. Some impressive backing vocals make this one quite catchy.
It’s a pop style that remains very interesting. It never settles. Each song is a new idea, and that has always been a redeeming feature for the band. The riffs here are less handsome but perhaps more charismatic in that they feel comforting, contrasting with the danger filled Helicopter, Hunting For Witches, Halo, and Kettling of previous albums. The breakdown on this one is tasty.
The Good News
The second single is a swaggering track that has a hint of country to it, employing a delicious slide guitar that would sound even better sped up.
This one is an atmospheric electronic dirge-like song that may have found a home on Kele’s solo projects. He uses a high octave in what slowly becomes a very beautiful listen that contrasts significantly with the tracks around it.
It’s around this point we begin to understand this album won’t reach the soaring heights we hoped it might, but it doesn’t attempt to either. Lovers of their earlier work will call this album tame and mean it as an insult but if we stop assuming what Bloc Party ‘should’ sound like, then this is a well-produced, diverse, and incredibly tender pop record which has been built to operate as a true album where each song must be listened to in order.
Into The Earth
In saying that, it doesn’t all work. This one is too self-indulgently experimental. Kele fails to shine on the mic and it all sounds a little too simple and sunshiny.
My True Name
My True Name has an underlying darkness which hums in the background of some lighter guitar work. On vocals, Kele is somewhere in-between to create a warm but cloaked vibe, like spending time with someone who could be friend or foe.
The third single is another trough for the album. It tries to up the anty all too late on a song that just feels benign. The flashy synths and keyboards on this drain away the emotion of Kele’s voice and devalue the grittiness that Bloc Party have always managed to maintain.
Hymns is probably highlighted by Exes, which brings to mind some of Kele’s best ballad moments. Gentle, mournful, and transparently honest, it gets things right.
There are moments it becomes clear that certain members of the band are being underutilised. New drummer Louise doesn’t get many chances to cut loose, despite showing considerable prowess in her live performances, and Russel, a fantastic guitarist, is also restricted by uncomplicated arrangements. This song especially, sounds like Kele’s own and no one else’s.
A lot of the time it seems like they are manufacturing songs rather than finding them within themselves, which is maybe why some songs never take off when you want them too. Eden is sweet enough, but it doesn’t burst or ripple enough to be satisfying.
The bonus tracks New Blood, Paradiso, and Evening Song are all actually good. In fact, they’re triumphant, catchy additions that finish the album strongly. They certainly know how to close out an album as we’ve seen in the past. Evening Song is a tender slow-burn that encompasses what we’ve heard throughout the record.
Can I liken listening to Hymns to a religious experience? No, although Kele certainly tries to cover the important territory, citing temptation, worship and forgiveness in big ways. Chanting and droning play their part alongside some hypnotic beats to affirm the theme of the album, and Bloc Party have to be admired wanting to use their many talents to produce such a diverse range of material. While Hymns doesn’t always pay off, it grows on you and is another important album for understanding Bloc Party as an entity.