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Bloc Party's statement against inequality

Review by Alexander Billet | March 9, 2007 | Page 13

Bloc Party, A Weekend in the City, Vice Records 2007.

BLOC PARTY has definitely made a huge mark on modern music. Their debut album Silent Alarm displayed an energy and emotional honesty that clearly set them apart from most of the too-cool-for-school attitude of most "indie-rock" bands.

It was this that prompted NME to claim Bloc Party "the band of 2005, no contest. As vital as The Clash in '77." Big shoes to fill, and the London-based outfit didn't disappoint. But despite this comparison, Bloc Party noticeably shied away from political issues.

They denied that their song "Helicopter" was about George W. Bush, and lead singer Kele Okereke criticized Green Day for jumping on the "anti-Bush bandwagon." But a lot has happened since Silent Alarm's release.

Just ask Okereke. Rather than focus on the group's music, the mainstream music press zoomed in on the singer's ethnicity; he's the son of Nigerian immigrants. Then, they hounded him about rumors of his bisexuality, which he confirmed after a few months.

Bloc Party has let those experiences shape its new album, A Weekend in the City. In doing so, the band has released a shockingly deep and powerful record. A step forward from Silent Alarm, the band has expanded its already intricate and layered sound, combining softer melodies with their raw frenetic power--a perfect compliment to Okereke's lyrics, which dare to venture into often taboo subjects.

The same range of emotions is expressed on this album--alienation, despair, hope, anger. But Okereke has put them in a frightening and confusing world: modern London. "East London is a vampire/it sucks the joy right out of me," sets the tone in the album's opening track "Song for Clay (Disappear Here)."

Bloc Party's London is especially alienating for groups seldom represented in pop music today: gays and people of color. "I just feel that every non-white teenager will know what I'm talking about when I say that certain avenues in this country are closed to you," Okereke told the British Guardian newspaper. "Whenever I walk into a pub in London I feel frightened. There are certain activities that are still predominantly white."

This is the world--one of inequality and bigotry--that Okereke has unflinchingly written into Weekend. The track "Where Is Home?" highlights this in a gut-wrenching way as it starts at the funeral of Christopher Alaneme, a Black youth stabbed to death last April whom Okereke knew well. In a country where ASBOs ("Anti-Social Behavior Orders") are used to scapegoat anyone with dark skin, this song hits hard.

Another highlight of the album comes in the menacing "Hunting for Witches," directed at the racist backlash following the London bombings in July 2005. "[That song was] written when I was just observing the reactions of the mainstream press and I was just amazed by how easy it'd been to whip them up into a fury," remarks Okereke. "I guess the point about the song for me is that post-September 11, the media has really traded on fear and the use of fear in controlling people."

But it would be wrong to portray Weekend as overwhelmingly bleak. The beautifully Cure-esque "I Still Remember" is a vivid portrayal of modern love, more explicitly one about a secret gay rendezvous.

When so many "love songs" trade in on cheap cliché, this tune is especially refreshing: "You should have asked me for it/I would have been brave/You should have asked me for it/How could I say no?" Love does take bravery, and doubly so when it's forbidden.

If one characteristic could sum up this diverse album, it would be the very thing that has set Bloc Party apart from the beginning--willingness to be honest and open. In an image-obsessed industry, this band has been bold enough to eschew pretension and speak their minds.

It's a hard thing to wear your heart on your sleeve. Bloc Party wears theirs with style. And this has lead them to produce one of the most poignant records in a long time. This is a flat-out incredible album. If Bloc Party continues on this path, they will end up one of the most important bands of our time.

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