Ugh. There was a part of me that was really rooting for Kele Okereke’s solo debut to succeed, but only because I missed Bloc Party; the same way another part of me was rooting for Julian Casablancas’ solo album to do well, because I missed The Strokes. And otherwise, their stories were awfully similar. Young, fresh-faced band, too-cool-for-school, with a stellar, historically-good debut. Follow-up album that was almost as good as the first, because it stuck to the basic elements that made the debut so good. A third record that fell off the wagon to varying degrees (in the case of The Strokes, a bit; in the case of Bloc Party, quite a bit).
And then the brooding moment when the bands were, suddenly and dramatically, on a “break”. Fans yearned for more, blogs spouted break-ups and solo band member album rumors, and finally the leads of both produce their own solitary albums. Which is where the tales diverge. Casablancas made a record rooted in his past work that also introduced something neoteric, while Okereke seemed to disregard everything that made Bloc Party so good, even simple stuff like melody and emotive resonance.
This is, unfortunately, all but neglected; obvious from the opening strains of the album in the form of repetitious lyrics, drilled out bass lines, and dance hall hand-claps, that clearly those searching for the sort of windows-down, shout-it-to-the-world power rock songs of early Bloc Party should look elsewhere. It’s hard to separate the onslaught of press over Kele’s recently revealed sexual preference from the album as well, both with the musical choices as well as pervasive themes. “I don’t know what you’ve been told/But this starts now, walk tall walk tall,” may be speaking to this, and over glitzy, discotheque beats even the most unsuspecting listeners may have that reaction drawn out of them. It’s discouraging to have this feel cheapened, that an otherwise courageous statement about one’s self be reduced to media frenzy, banal music and tired lyrics, but, there it is.
Tonally, not much changes after this either. Club beats and minimal ideas, rinse and repeat. “Tenderoni” is the first single off the album, and would be an outstanding song for a Gap Outlet store or a racing video game. It’s honestly about as good as it gets, there’s not that much diversity elsewhere. Even one of the more poignant lines from the record, “I used to want to rule the world/But now I just get by,” is lost in a non-existent melody and the tinkling of a keyboard on “The New Rules”.
If this really is the future of Kele and/or Bloc Party, count me out. I love the fact that Kele was brash enough to delve directly into unapologetic pop music, but I’m also kind of shocked he didn’t bring any of his early songwriting skills with him. Brilliant debuts like Silent Alarm aren’t fluky, and I have to believe we could see more music like that in the future. But this ain’t it.