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.
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