Wednesday, November 15, 2006
The Burden of Expectation (AKA Mallory's Week In The City)

Without naming names and starting pointless fights about what is (like most things, really) nothing more than a matter of opinion, I'm finding certain colleagues reactions to the recently leaked Bloc Party album both a) disarmingly vague and irritating and b) exactly what I expected. Given the level of (deserved) praise Silent Alarm received, it doesn't take a genius (or a well-heeled monkey with a protractor) to anticipate a critical slashing of its' follow-up.

Needless to say, the early word on this is precisely what I imagined it would be - the most conservative so-called critics are ready to give it the boot, while a few people who (shock-of-the-month-club) took the opportunity provided by Silent Alarm to become fans are willing to listen twice, maybe even three times to their new record.

What are they finding, these lucky few?

Well, they're finding that the 192 kpbs .mp3 files that have illegally escaped the clutches of the record company are of a muted, rather poor sonic quality. No! Do go on!

They're finding that the songs on A Weekend in the City are different from those on Silent Alarm, yet obviously written and performed by the same band. "Do you see what I did there?"

They're also finding that some of the quirks and flaws inherent in Bloc Party's sound are still intact. For instance, Kele still exhibits moments and passages redolent of third-form poetry (vampires are mentioned twice, Sudoku once, and Bret Easton Ellis is both alluded to and quoted). The band still uses the same loud/soft patterns and punching/soaring alternations. They're still crippled by an enormous debt to minor chords and certain comfortable progressions.

They still have those kinda goofy backup vocal stylings a la "Helicopter." And I'm not sure if that's a flaw or a virtue, actually. So it goes in the middle.

They're finding that the virtues exhibited by repeat exposure to Silent Alarm are still here on its sequel. Kele still sings like a tense "ordinary man" accustomed to cloaking his vulnerability in a sense of retributive pride and world-weary dismay. The band still packs a rhythmic punch, even if its somewhat lopped short by a weak (hopefully-not-the-final) master which is heavy on compression and low on seperation. The songs still soar along in a manner evocative of U2 but without the latter's pernicious self-righteousness. There are still moments of intense ugliness alternated with flashes of beauty.

In short, it's the new album by Bloc Party. And just as haters (and those regrettably shorn of their ears) declared the album inferior to the (rather lopsided) EP, those quick to follow popular opinion will regard A Weekend in the City as Silent Alarm's leftovers. Fine with me. That's just more room at the feast-table for the rest of us.

Bloc Party's debut album was an unexpected explosion that ranks as one of the classics of the naughties despite its flaws, just like a hundred great records before it. Its successor builds on the debut without rewriting the book overmuch, yet adds elements and influences which weren't as obvious on the first record. It's the textbook example of the follow-up: consolidating ground, winning few new converts but not alienating the fans. Or it would be if we were retroactively judging, say, the second Ramones record. Instead, certain crusties are taking out their alienation from youth culture by binning the second record by the buzz band of 2005 on the basis of an un-finalized leak. Which they would be doing regardless of the quality of said record or said band.

Congratulations, ladies and gentlemen. You have officially become your elders.

I've been listening to A Weekend in the City almost constantly since getting it - several times in the car, a couple at home, etc. It's a great second record, with many valid high points ("Hunting For Witches," "Waiting For the 7.18," the Cure-like "I Still Remember") and nothing jaw-droppingly embarassing.

And... (wait for it):

It's not as good as Silent Alarm. You know, the album that effortlessly ranks amongst my ten favorites of the decade thus far.

What, were you hoping for a miracle?

Also cross-posted.

Posted by Mallory on Wednesday, November 15, 2006 at 9:14 AM |

I haven't heard it yet, but I'll be sure to keep this in mind. Still, sometimes the predictably-derided followup really is disappointing - see the Futureheads for an example. Silent Alarm took plenty of time to get under my skin, though, I'll have to give this one the same chances.

I'm still scared to listen to it. I was a Bloc Party obsessive at one point in time, too.

I made an attempt to transfer the new album onto my ipod this morning before work, but I think the ipod is full and rejected most everything I was transferring because when I got to the office, only one new bloc party song was on it ("Waiting For the 7.18"). It held my attention for about a minute, and then my head dismissed it and I completely forgot it was even on and focused on work instead. Which is pretty bad that sitting here shooting rubber bands at the computer monitor is more interesting than a song. I want this album to knock me on my ass like the first one did, I really do. Hopefully the rest isn't bland, dull and trite like that one song I have heard.

And fuck the Futureheads. I didn't even know it was possible to make such a terrible album after putting out such an amazing debut.

Nicely done, Mal. Though this must surely be the first record in a long time we both have the same opinion on... I'd grown used to constantly disagreeing with you :)

Love the cover art, too.

And "Hunting for Witches."

And "Waiting for the 7.18."

And "SXRT."

Though I don't think it is quite so much "more of the same" as people are making out. But then again, I may just be basing that on "Hunting for Witches."

I'm coming back with a follow up.

I forced myself to listen to the album straight through 3 times today.

It's pretty much completely irritating. I hope to never have to listen to it again.

Sorry guys.

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