Few people thought Bloc Party would survive to make this record. After years of internal tension, all four members seemed to decide that solo or session work would be the easier option, and the band which had once been critical darlings and festival favourites appeared to have burned out.
Yet survive they did – albeit with only half their original members – and the result is an album which is likeable and listenable, but makes the band seem a little unsure of themselves musically. They experiment with everything from club music to country and western, but never really settle on a theme in a satisfying or cohesive way.
The dance elements work well in some tracks, such as Virtue, and hark back to when Bloc Party perfectly fused the club anthems and laddish guitar rock which dominated the noughties. At other times, though, it simply comes across as gimmicky, as if one of the producers got a bit excited with GarageBand. When combined with the country and western vibes of The Good News or the RnB elements of Fortress, it just adds to the feeling of inconsistency across the record.
Another drawback is the number of times Kele Okerere’s lyrics and staccato vocals are put front-and-centre, with minimal backing. Although perfectly decent, neither of these were ever the reason that Bloc Party were a success, and always worked best when backed up by some punchy guitars. This is why the choruses of most tracks on Hymns tend to be better than the songs as a whole, catchy opener and lead single The Love Within being case in point.
The weaknesses are well balanced by strengths, however. Lots of the songwriting is simple but earnest, in a way that should resonate widely. Exes is a good example of this, as is Into The Earth, which sounds very heavily influenced by Jack Peñate’s last album. Living Lux is a moody but superbly-chosen closing track, hinting at the potential of great music yet to come.
Like so many bands of their generation, Bloc Party may be forever cursed by having released an exceptional debut album which they can never match again. The upside of this, though, is a passionate, longstanding fan base. Hymns is unlikely to bring many new recruits to this group, but it also won’t leave existing members unsatisfied. Rather than reborn, Bloc Party seem like a band in gestation, with promising new directions still to go in. Whenever that happens it will definitely be worth listening to, but for now Hymns will sufficiently fill the gap.
by Tommer Spence