It's taken me a while to get into Bloc Party. I first encountered them at Leeds festival - and I wasn't impressed. They appeared to me to be just another wannabe indie-cool art band whose creative talent had been channelled into their dress sense instead of their music. However, after hearing some tracks from their debut album, Silent Alarm, and finally purchasing the album for myself some months ago, I have been forced slowly to admit that I was wrong. That album combined some infectuous motifs with some very effective musical arrangemnts that are by turns easy on the ears and great fun to dance to, coupled with some surprisingly clever lyrics (surprising because they're difficult to make out without the sleeve-notes).
This follow-up album is something entirely different - and so much the better for it. It seems the band have completely reinvented themselves and come up with something entirely unexpected, but just as good, if not better than their debut album.
The opening track has an incredibly inventive refrain (just try singing the line `Oh how long our parents they suffered for nothing' - it never does what you expect it to) and `Hunting for Witches', which follows it, similarly builds on its air of lurking menace and jaunty discontent (albeit with lyrics that are perhaps a tad unsubtle). The next two songs are linked, using the rythmic similarities between the verses of `The Prayer' and `Waiting for the 7.18' to generate a sense of alienation that links the situations of the two songs: one is constantly defeated, constantly looking for something more to life, whether `waiting for the 7.18' or `standing on the packed dancefloor'. `On' continues this theme, with a melancholic evocation of the lure of cocaine, at once leading to great nights out, but also reminding us that `when it runs out, we're chasing something we'll never catch'. `Uniform' takes up the theme of the difficulty of rebellion and true expression in the modern age, building from a slow, moody verse to a screaming chorus of frustration.
`Where is Home', influenced by recent incidents of hate crime, especially the Stephen Lawrence trial is genuinely uncomfortable to listen to. Not since the Manic Street Preacher's `The Holy Bible' has such vitriol against social injustice (`I want to stamp on the face of every young policeman, to break the fingers of every old judge') rung so true.
In the final section of the album, the songs become more reflective, with the beautiful `Kreuzberg', in which the singer ponders of the illusion of love obtained in numerous `strangers' bedrooms' before deciding that `at twenty-five, something must change'. The song then ends on a haunting chorus dealing with the discontentment in love that we have all surely felt at one point or another, sung over a wonderful guitar riff - a riff which is echoed in `Saturday', whose beautifully optimistic chorus is the very reverse of `Kreuzberg', suggesting that when true love does come, not only is it wonderful, but touchingly ordinary (`I love you in the morning when you're still hungover'). I think `forget about those melting ice caps, we're doing the best with what we've got' must be one of my favourite lines from any song ever.
Sandwiched between these two tracks is the album's high point, `I Still Remember', in which the singer recalls an unrequited love from his school days, regretting that he hadn't made his feelings known at the time. It's a cliched concept made new here by the simplicity of the lyrics - `Every park bench screams your name, I kept your tie' - which tells you, at once, both nothing at all and everything you need to know.
Ending the album on a thoroughly depressing note is SRXT, which appears to be about a suicide - `Tell my mother I'm sorry and I loved her'. After the optimisim of the preceding two tracks it brings you down to earth with a bang, forcibly reminding you that though life can be wonderful, the uncomfortable note of the first seven tracks never completely goes away.
So all in all a beautiful, profound and moving album, with something we can all relate to. Different from `Silent Alarm' it may well be, but all that means is that its virtues are different too. Extraordinary stuff.