A Weekend in the City
Vice Records, 2007
By Lonny Knapp
Why are so many sophomore albums disappointing?
Following up a critically acclaimed and commercially successful album like Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm is not an easy task. Considering that most bands take about ten years to compose the songs for their first record, bands often feel overwhelmed by time constraints when writing the follow-up. High expectations not only of themselves, but from the record company and fans, can often weigh down the creative process, stretching the relationships of band members to the breaking point. Pieces of the People We Love, The Rapture’s dismal follow-up to their stunning debut, Echoes, is a perfect example of a band experiencing a sophomore slump.
If the band is able to weather the storm, the result is often extraordinary. Take the cases of Led Zeppelin II, which finds the band at its guitar-riffing, drum-bashing, banshee-screaming, tight-pants-wearing pinnacle, and The Bends from Radiohead, which is quite possibly the finest-crafted pop record of all time. The pressure to deliver is intense, and Bloc Party are surely aware that people are listening.
A Weekend in the City, Bloc Party’s follow up to Silent Alarm, is a flawed but valiant effort. Enlisting the help of big-time producer Jacknife Lee (U2, Snow Patrol), Bloc Party created an album that is polished but not overproduced. Lee’s influence is prevalent throughout, but thankfully the studio trickery is, for the most part, used sparingly. That being said, those who were fans of the unprocessed production of Silent Alarm may well be turned off by the slickness of A Weekend in the City.
Opener “Song for Clay (Disappear Here)” begins with singer Kele Okereke crooning in a hoarse whisper that soon gives way to a falsetto melody, thankfully brief. The track builds and builds into an urgent, guitar-heavy number that is undoubtedly informed by the hundreds of arena shows the band have performed since last time around. The live experience has affected Bloc Party favourably, and this urgency is refreshing. Technically, they’ve matured, and drummer Matt Tong in particular seems to carry the band with both the subtlety and intensity of his playing.
The band has allowed themselves to experiment, adding textures and rhythms reminiscent of techno and house. “Hunting for Witches” begins with a digital collage of sound before receding to a fierce guitar riff. The “ear candy” is not always enjoyable, and often sounds as if it were added as an afterthought, maybe to liven up the record. The ominous Gregorian chanting on “The Prayer” can only be described as hokey, but by the time the infectious chorus hits, the listener forgives Okereke for his lack of judgment.
“Uniform” is a multi-textured and well-crafted pop song about conformity. The song begins mellow, but soon grows into a fist-pumping anthem, allowing guitarist Russell Lissack a rare guitar solo. “Kreuzberg”, the most beautifully crafted song on A Weekend in the City, finds Okereke at his most vulnerable. Personal, evocative, and reminiscent of U2, it is the track most likely to be adopted by radio and likely to win the band a legion of new fans.
The biggest draw to Bloc Party has always been Kele Okereke, whose earnestness and sincerity rivals that of Bono, but who in weaker moments, also harnesses the pretension of Morrisey. Unfortunately, he seems to share Morrisey’s sense of humour as well, and this lack of wit weighs down the album. [MONDO does not necessarily share the anti-Morrissey views of this writer. We love ya, Moz; keep bitchin’. – Ed.]
Inspired by Okereke’s interest in what he calls the living noise of a city, A Weekend in the City tries to capture every detail of life in a modern city from the ebullient to the mundane. For the throngs of nine-to-fivers, the boredom of office life and commuting gives way to late-night parties, illicit drug use, one-night stands, and early morning escapes on the weekend. But only Okereke can make it all sound so boring. Like visiting a pompous cousin attending art school in London, Bloc Party’s A Weekend in the City is at first exciting and illuminating, but soon becomes a dreadful bore. Come on, guys: lighten up!