British post-punk revivalists Bloc Party hit stores this week with “A Weekend in the City,” the long-awaited follow-up to their heralded debut, the 2005 release “Silent Alarm.” If the band felt pressure to match the critical accolades that were showered on their debut, they should feel a great sense of relief: “A Weekend in the City” is a potently strong album. While it may not have quite the same kinetic firepower of its predecessor, “A Weekend in the City” nonetheless suggests that Bloc Party is a band that should be a major force in rock over the next decade.
Most immediately noticeable on the new record is the more diverse and polished sound. “Silent Alarm” rarely strayed from spiky and stripped-down post-punk in the vein of 80’s stalwarts Gang of Four and Wire. “A Weekend in the City” has a larger, more ambitious sound, and feels like a natural progression from the rawness of the band’s debut. The dense and frenzied guitar of the debut is still evident, but whereas “Silent Alarm” seemed like an album just made for small, sweaty rock clubs, “A Weekend in the City” sounds like it should be played in arenas. And doubtless it will be.
The songwriting has evolved as well, and lyrically lead singer Kele Okereke has taken a huge leap forward. The album title suggests that the songs delve into different aspects of city life, and this is evident from a cursory glance at the lyrics, but these do not seem to be exclusively character-driven songs. There is a personal feel to many of the tracks that suggests a willingness from Okereke to put a great deal of himself into his work.
There are plenty of high points. First single “The Prayer” is a grandly melodic mash-up of straightforward Indie-rock and hip hop influences, which lyrically focuses on a desperate craving of recognition. Politically-charged “Hunting for Witches” is a powerhouse, blending electronic elements and razor sharp guitar riffs to haunting effect, while Kele sings about terrorist acts and the resulting fear and suspicion of immigrants. The strongest track may be “I Still Remember,” a driving rocker that explores an attraction between two presumably straight young men, and the painful regret of chances not taken. “You should have asked me for it, I would have been brave” -- the narrator laments. Given the speculation about Okereke's sexuality among some in the press, it’s a particularly brave song. Other strong moments include the atmospheric opening track, “Song for Clay (Disappear Here)”, and the powerfully rhythmic and experimental “Where is Home?”
The album ends with a bit of a whimper -- the last two tracks don’t do much to excite. There are also moments when studio experimentation is taken a little too far, and seems a bit gimmicky. But these minor quibbles aside, “A Weekend in the City” is an inventive and powerful record, and is without question a worthy follow-up to one of the best debut albums in recent memory. If there were any justice, “A Weekend in the City” will put Bloc Party on the path to the commercial success that has thus far eluded them in the U.S.