When Bloc Party‘s new album starts with The Love Within, it’s quite a disconcerting experience. Not just because Hymns brings with it an immediately discernible new line-up, but said new line-up has decided that an approach of waterboarding via siren-like synth is the way to kick things off.
“Don’t you want to get high?” sings Kele (still clinging on with barrel-scraping creativity), and immediately the thought is yes, we wouldn’t mind getting high if it means being able to tolerate this album. If the opener is like wandering into a club to see everyone off their face on the shittest drug imaginable, then Only He Can Heal Me feels like comedown 101 as it crawls with melodic simplicity that can only be described as, well, annoying.
That’s largely the problem on Hymns. Everything is so simple that it’s almost like join-the-dots – Kele’s delivery on So Real is almost staccato, determined as he is to plod from note to note without any sense of cadence or fluidity. Even his attempt at a ballad on Fortress is like a child learning a nursery rhyme for the first time, so needlessly careful that you’re just willing him to get on with it (or for someone to euthanise us).
And just as shallow as the emotion in his voice, so too is the instrumentation behind it. It seems like there’s been very little progress on all fronts, with tracks like Different Drugs perhaps aiming for sparse atmospherica, but ending up a diluted version of a thousand bands past. In the end, it’s all summed up by a line in The Good News that sees Kele accidentally back-ref his old mates by lamenting “I’ve got no substance since you’ve gone”. Bloc Party didn’t really have much to begin with; now they’re positively bereft.