Bloc Party's A Weekend in the City is a sophomore effort that could have been so much more. The band's first album, Silent Alarm, had about all you could ask for in a young band's debut - honesty, emotion and an endless supply of energy. While the great bands of the world build off these primitive factors as they mature, Bloc Party can't even manage to sustain these key ingredients for their follow-up album. In fact, A Weekend in the City boils down to very little memorable material. It isn't poor songwriting, it's lazy songwriting.
The 11 songs play like one flat piece of ambience with little bravery or devotion to the concept of contrast or the art of experimentation. It's not only disappointing, but surprisingly stale, particularly for a band that used vigor as such a vital crutch on their previous effort.
Frontman Kele Okereke's compositions are quite dark in subject matter,
including lyrics that deal with racism and terrorism. But such heavy material deserves stronger support from the musicians. Without it, Okereke's words, as emotional as they may be, are muted and leave no
impression on the listener. This is the case for most of the LP.
One element that added such a resonating sheen to Silent Alarm was Matt Tong's ruthless, machine-gun drumming. Unfortunately, this raw foray of power is all but absent from A Weekend in the City, pushing Tong undeservedly into the background.
Bloc Party's sometimes uninspired riffs prevent their intrinsic energy from lifting the songs into the stratosphere. For such a riff-heavy record, it would have been nice to see some variety, let alone creativity,
in this category. Minus the Bear, a band that constructs their songs in a similar pattern to Bloc Party, has proven to be massively more inventive
when it comes to squeezing the most out of six steel strings.
When Bloc Party does decide to stray away from basic rock template, the results are either short-lived sub-ideas or drastic misfires. "Hunting For Witches" takes off with a strikingly interesting schizophrenia of sound, but the manic outburst fades into the background as another cookie-cutter guitar riff shoots the song back into the swamp of mediocrity. In another example, "Uniform" adopts an unnecessary voice distorter that makes the song sound like the illegitimate son of "Mr. Roboto."
At the very least, the album ends on a high note. "SRXT," the closing
track, offers a surging flow of sound that finally manages to strike a nerve with the listener, an uncharacteristic quality in relation to the rest of the set.
But it's too little too late; the album has already alienated its audience with the mundane, repeating structure of much of the songs to that point. Optimists may reflect that the track proves they haven't lost all of what made Silent Alarm interesting, and hopefuls will use this microburst of creativity as a way of looking forward to further output from the band. In the end though, A Weekend In The City is a huge step in the wrong direction for a band that came blazing out of obscurity only two years ago.