Bloc Party’s new album, A Weekend In The City, is a series of ridiculously inane songs that take themselves way too seriously. It’s like when celebrities share their “unique” thoughts on having their first child. Twenty-five-year-old singer/songwriter Kele Okereke’s observations are embarrassingly obvious.
His words play out like bad teenage poetry or, better yet, narcissistic college student drivel. Don’t start me on Okereke apparently dealing with homosexual feelings. This seems to be what the press has grabbed ahold of and the songs in question, “I Still Remember” and “Kreuzberg,” are so wrapped in ambiguous WalMart-safe wordplay that they seem more closeted than anything else. These songs take fetus steps for the cause.
“I Still Remember” is similar to the college boy love that Morrissey did better than anyone. Evoking the nervous boy-on-boy fun of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and EM Forster’s Maurice, Morrissey always played the ambiguity card with a knowing intelligence and plenty of wit to savour. The Smiths’ “This Charming Man” and “Hand In Glove” are perfect examples.
The guitars and drums on Bloc Party’s “I Still Remember” have the same static pulse of early U2. It so happens that the producer of A Weekend In The City is Jacknife Lee (he worked on U2’s 2004 release, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb). The lyrics never once mention the gender of Okereke’s affections. “You said it’s just like a full moon/ Blood beats faster in our veins,” sings Okereke, “We left our trousers by the canal/ And our fingers they almost touched.” Whatever. Girls wear pants, too.
Compare that to Morrissey’s “Hand In Glove” lyric. ” No, it’s not like any other love/ This is different/ Because it’s us.” Now that’s how you do it, Mr Okereke.
In the recent UK-based Guardian Unlimited article entitled “21st-Century Boy,” writer Craig MacLean talked to Okereke about his sexuality. Okereke, among other things, had this to say:
“Britain has always had a love/hate relationship with gay public figures. They’re treated as funny and inoffensive and camp. But when a seemingly heterosexual person seems to display an inclination for the other team it becomes this real hounding situation. You’re allowed to exist if they’re seen as a kind of a sub-class. Something ineffectual, a comedy Kenneth Williams character.”
The melody of “Kreuzberg” (oh, we’re in Berlin’s East Side Gallery… he must be gay) sounds like a more determined version of the America’s Next Top Model closing credits theme. The words seem closeted again and not in an interesting way — they just seem plain sad. Nothing is revealed. If Okereke didn’t tell us in various interviews that this is a song dealing with boy love, you wouldn’t know it.
“I have decided at 25/ That something must change/ After sex/ The bitter taste/ Been fooled again/ The search continues/ Concerned mothers of the west/ Teach your sons how to truly love.”
Of course this album has been made for the sole purpose of being consumed by the masses (hence the radio-friendly emo production values). It reeks of trite sensitivity and self-righteousness and sounds like everything else on the radio (Good Charlotte, Green Day and the like). The song “Uniform” is the worst kind of song. It’s the easy target song: Okereke has problems with mall culture (even though it’s band’s major fan base, for sure).
Conformity is no longer about working in an office cubicle all day or suppression of one’s true emotions. Now it’s only draped in fashion label references or, the easiest target, people who drink Starbucks concoctions — pop cultural references that are everywhere and therefore considered not cool. Only a chosen few truly understand the world and see through all of this supposed Orwellian 1984 brainwashing. For some unknown reason, though, iPods and excessive beer drinking seem to be left out of the equation.
It’s funny that the band’s label is Vice Music (yes, run by the boys of Vice magazine). This is the kind of band that the sneering immature writers of Vice would rip to shreds.
“Uniform” is fine enough. Okereke sounds a little bit like Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, and drummer Matt Tong plays with a solid explosive intensity (he’s really good). But the lyrics are altogether cringe-worthy.
“There was a sense of disappointment as we left the mall/ All the young people looked the same/ Wearing their masks of cool and indifference/ Commerce dressed up as rebellion.”
But the worst lyrics have to belong to “Hunting For Witches.”
“I was an ordinary man/ With ordinary desire/ I watched TV/ It informed me/ I was an ordinary man/ With ordinary desire,” Okereke croons. “There must be accountability/ Disparate and misinformed/ Fear will keep us all in place.”
Maybe Okereke should take inspiration from his own words. Drop the fear and come out already. Truly become that 21st-century boy.