I don't know if I'd even call this a review, more it's an appreciation written entirely as a result of news that Bloc Party is playing a show at the Rapids Theatre in June. I'll be honest with you, I'm still pretty blown away that it's happening. Bloc Party was always one of those bands that sort of flies over Buffalo on their way somewhere else, and I made peace with the fact that I'd have to make the trip to Toronto to see them on this tour, so news that they're playing a magical venue like the Rapids made me kind of dizzy for a second. Memories of shows like Interpol, The Strokes, and to a lesser extent Passion Pit at the Rapids shimmer in my memory, and Bloc Party seems like a sure bet to join that list of profound concert experiences, so right now I'm all about Bloc Party and in particular their second album Weekend In The City.
Bloc Party's danceable brand of politically incisive agit poparrived at just the right time, with august leftie heroes R.E.M.fading away, but like any band there doubts that they'd be able to do their stunning and critically acclaimed Silent Alarm justice. Here was a band that was a vision of the new Britain, and British critics were quick to lionize the band and all that they stood for (multiculturalism, youth, left wing politics, sexual ambiguous lyrics), while American critics were happy to see a new indie band stick it to the man. THE FEAR was on in those days, like it is today, and Bloc Party became a beacon of righteous liberal ire, and best of all, you could dance to them. But could they keep it going on their sophomore release, or would the critics get to use their sharp knives on a band they'd raised so high?
In 2007, I suffered in a cubicle, in year nine of a twelve year sentence, and as a music fan I just wanted another good album from a band who's debut had gotten me through many dark days, and with Weekend In The City I got it and then some. Kele Okereke's newly direct lyrics spoke to me, directly. Caught in a soul crushing grind, here was an album to feast upon while in the grip of existential despair, an album that featured righteous anger, scathing wit, and sharp critiques of modern life and soul crushing grinds. It didn't matter if the settings were British, right wing rubbish is right wing rubbish on either side of the pond, and the universality of these kinds of experiences made them accessible and relatable.
But for all the ire and critique, there was also a tremendous amount of pathos and humanity. "Where Is Home?" finds Okereke struggling to find words to say to the mother of a son killed in a hate crime, while on "SRXT" he looks at the grim tragedy of young adult suicide (please note, work was bad, but it wasn't that bad). "The Prayer," an introvert's pre extroversion mantra, rang so true that it almost hurt, like "Waiting For The 7.18," which spoke directly to the existential despair I wrassled with at the time. Apparently, working life in London is a teeth grinding, soul annihilating slog that drives those living it to periodically flee the capital for the weekend to preserve what's left of their sanity. I could relate.
My favorite track though is "Uniform," a lovely and harsh diatribe against the successful corporate takeover of youth culture. The corporate man had been trying to kill off cool and commodify youth since forever, and by the mid aughts it felt like they'd succeeded. Conformism and non-conformism became one and the same for the kids who'd unwittingly become unpaid walking, talking, and texting billboards for multinational corporations, and it was around this time that I concluded that, like the standard of living, the kids would never be as cool as we are,* and that makes me sad. "There was sense of disappointment as we left the mall" because "all the young people looked the same" sums it up perfectly because sometimes I think these kids are on their way to be denizens in a William Gibson corporatized dystopia.
Musically, Weekend In The City went down real easy, in part thanks to Jacknife Lee's ambitious production, which fused the sharp and jittery angles of Silent Alarm with unabashed British New Wave to refreshingly beautiful effect. While the sharp liberal critiques had proper bombast ("Hunting For Witches," "Song For Clay"), the love songs and quiet moments ("Sunday," "I Still Remember," "Waiting For the 7.18") now featured soaring and tasteful flourishes that didn't undermine the overall tone of the record or (more importantly) Bloc Party's developing sound. In many ways, this could have blown up in their face big time, bringing in a slick, big time producer to "broaden their sound," but it paid off brilliantly, creating an album that still shines and stands out six years later.
There's no question that Bloc Party have been one of the most important "new" bands of the last ten years. While not a commercial powerhouse in the US, Bloc Party's humanist art for the oppressed, fellow travelers, and lovers (gay, straight, whatever) has filled a vital niche for music fans seeking to get their Clash on while also getting their dance on, and for that I'll always be fond of them, along with the fact that they were an inspirational and soaring soundtrack to an.... interesting time in my life. While that period is firmly behind me, Bloc Party and Weekend In The City are still here, speaking to our times and to my leftie heart, and I am glad for it because they are a vital band and it's a vital album that's still applicable to a lot of the tsuris and wildness going off these days.
* Of course there are still some cool kids being created every day, and that rebellion against the corporations and the right wing goons seeking to outlaw critical thought, and that makes me happy. But they're an endangered species.