A Weekend in the City
A mood of downbeat existential discovery drives Bloc Party’s sophomore album, “A Weekend in the City.” The songs tend to start small and build, the way a daylong crying jag might emerge from a few choked sobs.
Musically, the songs offer a harmonious synthesis of U2’s driving pop ballads and the Cure’s electronic angst and are more consistently radio-friendly than the tracks on the band’s first effort, “Silent Alarm.”
Lyrically, Bloc Party mines a lode of American-style anomie, a mood perhaps brought on by having a few of the band’s early songs appear against a backdrop of suburban longing on the teen soap “The O.C.” The album art, a photograph of an empty highway interchange cutting through an indifferent concrete landscape, underscores the theme that is fully brought home by “Song for Clay (Disappear Here).”
That track is an avowed allusion to the haunting nothingness of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel “Less Than Zero.” It name-checks both the book’s lead character and a recurrent literal and metaphorical signpost. The Brit-pop quartet nails the mood and sticks the landing with a simple, persistent beat matched with a whispery, underinflected vocal singing lines such as: “So I enjoy and I devour/ flesh and wine and luxury/ But in my heart, I am lukewarm/ Nothing ever really touches me.”
It’s perhaps an unintended irony that Mr. Ellis’ novel was itself named for an arch, mock-nihilistic pop song by Elvis Costello. It’s not clear whether Bloc Party is aware it’s closing a 30-year circle of pop ennui. Indeed, it’s doubtful that anyone in the band or many of their fans were even born in 1977 when Mr. Costello’s song was released.
This is not to say the new album is better than “Silent Alarm.” In many ways, “A Weekend in the City” spurns the more inventive aspects of its predecessor: Gone are the digressive drum fills, the minor-key bridges to nowhere, the punk-inspired guitar licks and, it appears, singer Kele Okereke’s pronounced regional accent.
The remainder of the songs touch on similar themes. The relatively gentle, “Waiting for the 7:18” offers an update on the proverbial man-in-the-gray-flannel-suit set in modern London. It tells the tale of a “weary-eyed and forlorn” office worker who laments, “sitting inside in bars after work, I’ve got nothing to add or contest.” The song opens with a tinkle of bells and the soft hum of an organ and accelerates with the crash of a drum and a jangle of guitar, as if racing to find an answer that is not forthcoming.
The last track, “SXRT,” is the most successful in this vein. It begins with a sonorous bass line that melds with a slowly arpeggiated guitar chord and a soft, almost whispered vocal that articulates a very youthful form of regret — moot love letters, a bucolic summer passed — that slowly, painstakingly climbs into a brief moment of sonic ecstasy before resolving back into its elemental sadness..