A persuasive solo debut: confident, innovative and brimming with hooks.
David Sheppard 2010
When, late last autumn, UK indie rock imperators Bloc Party decided to take a sabbatical, the prospect of making new music was the last thing on leader Kele Okereke’s mind. Instead, he bought himself his first apartment and signed up for kick-boxing lessons – like you do. Clearly, straight knee thrusts and wallpaper swatch books had only a transient appeal as he was soon ensconced in an EMI studio, plugging in unfamiliar synths and programming drum machines for the first time in his life.
Ratcheting up proceedings by collaborating with Alex Epton, aka Brooklyn remix maestro/Spank Rock producer XXXchange, Okereke’s debut proffers 10 robust tracks that owe more to the dancefloor than the indie rock stage (a trend already discernable on Bloc Party’s 2008 album Intimacy, to be fair). Doffing a hat to the likes of Gary Numan, TV On the Radio, M.I.A. and Bodyrox along the way, this is, for the most part, an album of leftfield electro/techno pop with a yearning, ruminative, songwriterly soul. Okereke’s lyrics dwell nakedly on matters emotional and existential and any song that can render an anthemic chorus from the phrase: “You’re making me older / You’re making me ill” – as All the Things I Could Never Say does – is clearly not to be confused with mirror ball escapism, even if elsewhere (On the Lam, Tenderoni) things err unashamedly toward happy hardcore.
It’s not all mechanical beats, oscillating sequencers and Auto-Tune voices, however. Everything You Wanted, with its stirring chorus and one-note piano, might be prime Bloc Party; Unholy Thoughts welds a Peter Hook-esque bassline to a breathless pop-rock chassis (part Depeche Mode, part early Talk Talk), and New Rules is a pared-back essay for muted electronic string arpeggios, the disembodied voice of a telephone operator and a sweet, high octave duet vocal from Jodie Scantlebury.
All in all, this is a persuasive solo debut, confident, innovative and brimming with hooks. “You are stronger than you think,” goes the chorus to the stirring Rise, and it could be the solo Okereke’s mantra-to-self. On this evidence, don’t expect any Bloc Party activity any day soon.