ALBUM REVIEW: Bloc Party – Alpha Games


Bloc Party burst onto the UK music scene with their raucous debut album Silent Alarms in 2005, proving to be a unique act in the indie rock scene, with a collection of uptempo songs blending contemporary post-punk with art rock. The band immediately resonated with a new generation in a similar way that contemporaries such as Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines had, largely helped by the flamboyant personality and distinct vocal style of frontman Kele Okereke. The record went platinum in its first year as the band were championed on mainstream UK radio by the likes of Steve Lamacq and Zane Lowe, with a buzz also being created in the States where extensive touring followed.

Their second album A Weekend In The City (2007) saw the band drip feed electronic influences into their sound, while also expanding on the straight forward guitar rock of their debut, before showing a distinctly increased experimental side, with heavier use of electronica and synths on third album Intimacy released just one year later.

Their next LP Four, released in 2011 was produced by Alex Newport of nineties sludge metal band Fudge Tunnel, and returned to more of a straightforward rock sound, but with a maturity in their song writing that clearly came with the experience of being a successful band, almost a decade into their career. Bloc Party then completely stripped back and produced a mellower and funkier set of songs on their fifth album Hymns where

Okereke and lead guitarist Russell Lissack were joined by a new rhythm section of Justin Harris on bass and Louise Bartle on drums.

Alpha Games (Infectious/BMG) is their sixth record, and it certainly is a thought provoking and interesting collection of songs, with a progression of their unique sound in part no doubt influenced by having recently toured their early material prior as there are certainly some elements of old school Bloc Party scattered throughout, with a number of classic sounding and anthemic chorus’s, similar to the style that the band made their name with.

Intro song ‘Day Drinker’ explodes into a memorable chorus following an early ska feel, while also featuring a lovely heavy, fuzzy distorted guitar outro riff. From here the record jumps into the incredibly catchy first single ‘Traps’, which is up tempo with a rolling bass hook, a kind of nineties Blur style to the verse and some classic lyrics from Kele which include the line “Lick lick lick, lickety split … raise the stakes … talk dirty to me!”

There are moments with a mellower vibe on the LP which sound like they could have come from the Hymns sessions, including ‘You Should Know The Truth’ with its funky bassline, the atmospheric ‘Of Things Yet To Come’ and ‘If We Get Caught’.

Elsewhere, there certainly seems to be the greatest use of electronica and synths since their experimental third record. ‘Rough Justice’ has a verse with electronic dub style drums, while ‘Sex Magik’ has a psychedelic and spacey synth running throughout. ‘By Any Means Necessary’ has a dark disco/dub edge, while ‘Callum Is a Snake’ (one of the standout cuts for me), starts with a sombre bassline over a drum & bass/jungle style percussion, featuring some use of spoken word by Kele, who spits snarling lyrics including “You got me looking like a mug and that’s not the look I’m going for”, and “You’re a snidey little fuck … Callum is a Snake”.

The personal aspect to Kele’s lyrics shine through once again on melancholic album closer ‘The Peace Offering’, which finishes the record in style, starting down tempo with further spoken words including “I don’t wish you death by stinging nettles, I don’t wish you death by a thousand paper cuts … no not any more”, before it builds to a crescendo.

Bloc Party are a band who aren’t afraid to experiment, do things their own way and inject a little humour in their work to counteract the darker moments. On Alpha Games there is a little bit of everything they have done before thrown into the mix, and certainly the first half of the album is up there with their finest work. The quality does dip a little in the second half, but overall this is a solid return from a band who created an original sound and continue to stand out from the crowd seventeen years after their debut.

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7 / 10