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Recorded in the bucolic splendour of County Westmeath, Bloc Party's second album is a labyrinthine concept album about urban living. Better to take a risk, says frontman Kelé Okereke, than to repeat yourself .
Peter Murphy, 02 Feb 2007
It’s the oldest hitch in the book. You’ve got a lifetime to conceive, conceptualise and compose your debut album, but a scant two years in which to produce a follow-up. To compound the problem, your attention span is shredded by the instant gratification of live shows and the demands of press and promo duties. Consequently, that difficult second album is often so named because it’s as hard for the paying public to listen to as it is for the band to write and record.
Bloc Party singer and guitarist Kelé Okereke is all too aware of the old industry tropes and career traps, and when it came time to record the successor to the band’s critically lauded and commercially lucrative Silent Alarm, he was determined not to screw it up.
“We’ve always been fans of music as young people, we always read the NME from the ages of 13, and we knew what the classic paradigms are: band makes successful debut only to be slated on the sophomore record,” he says. “But that’s less to do with the music and more to do with the media’s emphasis on the ‘new’ all the time in this country.
“The second Strokes record isn’t a particularly worse record than the first one, but the absolute hyperbole and critical acclaim, because they were new and came from nowhere, meant that no matter what they did, there was gonna be a very palpable sense of anticlimax. I’m curious as to how the Arctic Monkeys are going to manage that situation. They’re a good band and they’ve had lots and lots of success first time around – it must be quite nerve-wracking for them.”
Not that much less nerve-wracking for Bloc Party, one imagines. When the quartet released that first album exactly two years ago, they seemed to jump the queue overnight and assume the status of third-in-line heirs to the post-punk modernist guitar band throne, behind Franz and Interpol.
The quartet – Kelé, guitarist Russell Lissack, bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong – were an aptly named lot, their buzz-cut rhythms, jagged guitars, strangled, emotive vocals and icy keyboard atmospheres suggesting the in-house soundtrack to some prohibited basement bash taking place behind the Iron Curtain circa 1984, when the gloomy yet uplifting sounds of The Cure, Wire and Joy Division were still too recent to be termed a revival.