Bloc Party: Hymns | Virgin Media
Bloc Party: Hymns

Bloc Party: Hymnsby Ian Gittins | Rating: ★★★

29/01/2016Music

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The death of David Bowie served as a reminder that art-rock is always best when its creators put equal weight on both of the syllables: when it is arty music, that rocks.

Uptight, twitchy and restless in whichever musical skin they are trying on, Bloc Party have always struggled – on record, at least – with the second part of that equation. There is no doubting their antsy, showy angst, yet their music frequently sounds as self-doubting and second-guessing as the emotional states that it conveys. They can be hard work.

This fifth studio album continues their journey from jerky indie rockers to purveyors of more sumptuous, lavish electro-noir, but the central fault lines remain. Kele Okereke may be a poster boy for one generation of ennui-laden metropolitan poseurs, but his signature note is earnestness: the essential contradiction of Bloc Party.

Hymns finds them appropriating the evangelical language of gospel music while never sounding remotely devout. You rather suspect that Kele’s is a hipster God, with tats to go with his beard. When Okereke declaims, “Let me wait until my saviour gets home” as if from a pulpit on Only He Can Heal Me he sounds, yet again, as if he is warily trying the idea on for size.

Not the art-rock classic Bloc Party long to make

Far better is So Real, an affecting heartbreak song that unfolds around a crunch of New Order guitar. The Good News is a more studied attempt to deal with the same sense of loss, and yet you wince slightly at Okereke’s literalist heavy-handedness: “I used to find the answers in the gospel of St John/Now I find them in the bottom of this shot glass.”

Often, Hymns recalls Violator-era Depeche Mode without that band’s portentousness and musical dexterity. Sex song Fortress finds Okereke keening in a choirboy alto about “gold between your legs”, but he is way too uptight to convince as a carnal lover-man. Then the relative pop smarts of Virtue sound so much like Andy Bell and Erasure that it is spooky.

The album closes with the cryptic, faux-martyred break-up song Living Lux, whose anguished solipsism leaves you thinking, “Actually, mate, you probably are quite hard work.” Hymns is a record that aches with ideas, intelligence and intensity – but it is not the art-rock classic that Bloc Party so patently long to make.