Despite having the same singer, style of instrumentation and tone, A Weekend in the City is nothing that Bloc Party’s 2005 debut was. That discovery was so disconcerting that I actually threw on Silent Alarm again to see if the joke was on me the first time around. It wasn’t. That album still has all of the vitality and sharp-edged anthemic post-punk style that made Bloc Party famous. But here is its follow-up: limp, toothless, even defeated.
The guitars have lost their bite, but what’s really ruined this D.O.A. offering is Kele Okereke’s nonstop stream-of-consciousness vocals. A huge misinterpretation of his strengths, the new record finds the lead singer packing long sentences into small couplets, overflowing hooks with too many syllables, and putting essays where poetry would suffice. “I am trying to be heroic in an age of modernity,” he starts the album with, unable to wait to get it out, following it up with a mouthful of nothing. “Hunting for Witches” is even worse, with maybe ten seconds without lyrics until two and a half minutes into the song.
One of the more interesting aspects of Silent Alarm was the anthemic qualities of so many of the songs. Some found the repetition simplistic and easy, but the energy and universal appeal of the refrains made the album seem bigger than it was, more political, more emotional. A Weekend in the City borders on emo in its wordy self-obsession, so even though the record is actually more sonically adventurous than its predecessor, it seems like a massive step backward.
With repeated listens, the layers of attention put into A Weekend in the City increasingly shine through: the artful production touches, the stylistic flourishes. I have to wonder, then, if the album is a play for a larger audience (to the tune of U2/Coldplay) or if this is the artistic direction Bloc Party was meant to take all along. Either way, it’s a disappointing turn for a band that had an enormous amount of promise.