Following the departure of founding members Matt Tong and Gordon Moakes, Bloc Party could have easily called it a day, particularly after the lukewarm reception to ‘Intimacy’ and ‘Four’. Perhaps Kele Okereke felt he had something to prove then, as he remains defiant in objecting those who thought the bands original scintillating fire had diminished into a pitiful ember, and ropes in new drummer Louise Bartle and bassist Justin Harris to join himself and guitarist Russell Lissack. Unfortunately, Hymns almost makes me wish as though the band had called it quits. The sound of a band desperately striving to re-invent themselves to still appear contemporary and different, Hymns is effectively a dire synth pop record.
Personally, I felt ‘Four’ was a step in the right direction, Bloc Party delivering indie rock, ie what they do best. ‘Hymns’ shatters any chance of a return to form straight from the off with the downright irritating siren-laden catastrophe of ‘The love within’. Kele is evidently aware of the bands past, as he opens the album with “Lord give me grace//and dancing feet”, harking back to ‘The prayer’ from ‘A weekend in the city’, yet none of the vitriolic bite displayed on the first two albums seems to feature. Even from here, the impervious Matt Tong is sorely missed, no disrespect to Louise Bartle, but his are very big shoes to fill, and many of the tracks lack the drive of pre-Hymns Bloc Party. Religion is the name of the game on ‘Hymns’, taking prominence on the majority of the tracks, especially ‘Only he can heal me’, with its gospel-chant backing vocals, leading up to a bland solo from Lissack. ‘So real’ is nauseatingly poppy, and lacks the fragility and earnestness that make classics like ‘This Modern Love’ so sincere. The electronics here add nothing to the song, which is a central issue throughout the record, with many of the songs actually being held back by the bands obsession with throwing a misplaced synth in here or there.
‘The Good News’ has an interesting slide guitar, but still lacks the menace and angularity of older cuts, the tracks promise is partly ruined by the poppy instrumentation of the pre-chorus, while the rhythm section is devoid of any notion of flair or urgency. Religion implants its tendrils in Kele’s thoughts again with the notion of praying cropping up. A trap indebted synth and booming sub-bass jar with Kele’s ethereal vocals on ‘Fortress’, a song exerting every muscle in attempt sound heartfelt, but winding up sounding uninspired as Kele seems to have lost the ability to write the tender songs he used to deliver in spades. The lyrics of ‘Different Drugs’ are a return to Kele’s usual standard, “started as a joyride//just a way to let off steam//but now we’re running off the road//cos’ you’re asleep at the wheel”. These lyrics are drastically let down by the dragging, bland electronic instrumentation, that serves as a detriment to so much of the album. The intro to ‘Into the Earth’ fills the listener with slight promise, as a markedly more interesting bass and guitar lead ensue, however a disappointing chorus leaves you flat, cursing your fluttering hope that Bloc Party had turned a corner. On this track it is undeniable that the days of Bloc Party’s seething resentment of society and panic-stricken anxiety are long gone, as Kele has seriously mellowed, and lost his fire as a result.
‘My true name’ is unremarkable, save for an interesting stuttered guitar from Lissack and a space-y synthesiser. Harris’ bass finally produces something resembling purpose on ‘Virtue’, while Lissack actually delivers a guitar hook that sounds like Bloc Party, don’t get your hopes up though, a synth is preposterously inserted, ruining what could have been. A heart-provoking track of genuine apology and yearning arrives late to the party in ‘Exes’, minimal instrumentation leaving Kele to lament his previous relationships, “to all the exes//that I’ve left behind//these words will fall short//but I must try”. The less said about closer ‘Living Lux’, the better, a deeply uninteresting electronic lull, also grimacing back on Kele’s past relationships.
So, a return to form? Absolutely and categorically not. Even the better moments on the LP leave you feeling this is a second-rate Bloc Party, a different band to the one that ripped the Bush Whitehouse to tatters on ‘Silent Alarm’. Save for ‘Exes’, the album is deeply uninteresting, and plagued by electronic misfires, leaving the listener wondering where the band that burst onto the scene in 2005 have gone, and if they’ll ever return.