Bloc Party: Alpha Games

Instrumentally, the British post-punk band Bloc Party sound impressively tight on their latest full-length album, Alpha Games. They should, as it’s their first studio record since 2016’s Hymns, and they’ve had over five years to retool their sound with drummer Louise Bartle and bassist Justin Harris who both joined the band in 2015. The production on the new LP is outstanding. Nick Launay (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) and Adam Greenspan (IDLES, Arcade Fire) help Bloc Party return to the urgent and tense sound they utilized to great effect on their first two releases while maintaining a certain studio slickness that helps to highlight the group’s musical precision throughout.

“Day Drinker” opens things nicely, building tension with vocalist/rhythm guitarist Kele Okereke delivering rapid fire lyrics over a taught lead guitar. At the two-minute mark, the song breaks out into an accelerated, proggy call-and-response between two dueling guitars. It makes for a fiery final third to the number. As if switching into high gear, “Traps” comes roaring out of the gate with Bartle dropping a ska-inspired beat driving a tough-sounding lead line that builds to a breakout moment with Okereke flexing his vocal talents as he sings, “Meet me in the boom boom room, and we can do what you like, I wanna be your education, I wanna be your contact high.”

This is probably as good a place as any to mention that the group’s lyrics and themes don’t seem to have evolved at all in the fifteen-plus years since Silent Alarm. “Callum Is a Snake” finds Okereke warning a potential love interest of a scoundrel. With its glam metal, shout along chorus and hissing snake sounds (yes, you heard that right), the song comes off as obvious and juvenile in tone. Similarly, “The Girls Are Fighting” is a Gary Glitter knockoff complete with a “Hey, hey, the girls are fighting, and the boys can’t cope!” cheering chorus.

The opening number on Alpha Games’ second side, “Of Things Yet to Come”, throws us a curveball with a comparatively tender moment. At just over four minutes, it’s the album’s longest song so far and its best and most thoughtful. “By Any Means Necessary” has Bloc Party revisiting the dance-punk style they’ve utilized to great effect in the past. It’s another nice changeup and provides a pleasant late sequence pick-me-up. Alpha Games’ penultimate track, “If We Get Caught” proves the success Bloc Party had angling for gentleness on “Of Things Yet to Come” was no fluke. The effect works amazingly well here, especially with the added female backing vocals (Louise Bartle?).

Alpha Games’ near-five-minute closer, “The Peace Offering”, opens with Okereke monologuing over a reverb-soaked mid-tempo groove. “So I ride into town on a blood red horse, thinking about the force that connects all forms,” the leadman sing-speaks rhythmically before turning on his trademark breathy cry just as a gospel-like chorus joins in. The song smacks of Launay’s work with Nick Cave. Foisting this style on Bloc Party makes for an interesting experiment that could only work at the album’s end due to its over-the-top emotionality. Unfortunately, “The Peace Offering’s” last half minute feels abrupt and anticlimactic. It’s a bit of a disappointment after the song’s four-and-a-half-minute buildup.

While Bloc Party’s work instrumentally on Alpha Games is at times jaw-droppingly good, the callow lyrics and excessive melodrama pull the entire work down to a place of puerility. Perhaps this is the band’s goal. Although it’s tough to imagine fans the group garnered fifteen-plus years ago still identifying with themes commonly associated with the years between adolescence and adulthood, maybe the hope is to bring a younger audience into the fold. Regardless, Alpha Games’ charms are ephemeral.

Rating: 6.2/10

Listen on Apple Music

Leave a Reply