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Bloc Party have always had an aura of coolness about them, but with each album they release they seem determined to shake it off. Silent Alarm was the pinnacle of the indie landfill in the mid-2000s, fusing rapid guitar riffs and manic drum-beating to create a truly memorable album. But nothing since, except the indie-dance classic Flux, has come close to matching the genius of their debut album.
And this could well be because of their genre-shifting approach to recording. And, to an extent, one must appreciate this rather than relying on their laurels and producing carbon copies of their blueprints. But it’s a shame to say that Hymns is another smudge on their discography. Lead single ‘The Love Within’ is ever-so-slightly dorky, with its supposed (since most sounds were created with guitar experimentation) guitar-led rhythm attempting to add a little funk to festivities. But ultimately it ends up like a poor man’s Flux.
The rest of the album doesn’t seem to have any focus, particularly when taking second single ‘The Good News’ into account. As a standalone song it’s one of the best on the record but, with what one could call an electronica album, a slide guitar is the last thing you’d expect. And that’s exactly what you get, smeared into the chorus amongst a progressive riff in the verse.
Hymns is the first album to not feature bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong, who have been replaced by Justin Harris and Louise Bartle respectively, though Bartle has only so far showcased herself in live performances. Yet it’s disappointing not to see the new talents being pushed further, as Kele Okereke’s vocals and Russell Lissack’s guitar-distorting seem comfortable enough to hold the album together. Which is a shame, because although they’ve moved on yet again from their previous sound, Harris and studio drummer Alex Thomas bring nothing new to the record.
The main issue with Hymns is that nothing stands out. Final track ‘Living Lux’ could perhaps be considered artfully minimalist like ‘Compliments’ from Silent Alarm, if it wasn’t for the fact that the rest of the album isn’t abrasive and edgy enough to make it stand out.
Lyrically the album has a religious theme, originating from Okereke’s visit to his parents’ house and finding various spiritual items, not to mention the album’s slightly grandiose title. You’d think that this would perhaps give the LP more of a personal touch but, alas, the singer remains slightly awkward – much like in previous records. It’s difficult to decide in one song whether the unconventional line “every day is a repeat, like a carrier bag stuck in a tree” is worse than the succeeding cliché comparing religion’s solutions to alcohol’s answers, as Okereke drags out “sh-o-t glass”.
As a whole, Hymns is another of Bloc Party’s attempts at pushing the boundaries that ultimately falls short. 11 years ago this month they were the indie-darlings of the music industry. Now they’re just another has-been. Speaking of which, I wonder when Razorlight will come back…