“Bloc Party” is a pretty great name for a band: dancing and conviction, vaguely political, all of that. The obvious connection is with “Gang of Four,” another band name with a tinge of Marxism, and a musical touchstone for critics assessing ‘Silent Alarm.’ But, as attention-grabbing post-punk band names go, “Joy Division” is closer to “Bloc Party.” The Nazi source of JD’s name had nothing to do with the music of those glum Manchester kids, just as neither the Soviet Bloc nor the Bloc Quebecois have anything to do with this band.
The obvious comparison I would make with Bloc Party is between front man Kele Okereke and Blur’s Damon Albarn, when he was more cheerful than he has been lately. This comparison highlights my problem with Bloc Party: they’re too straight. Blur, at their best, were always self-reflexive enough not to take themselves seriously, to acknowledge how ludicrous it is for people to communicate emotions through factory-produced pieces of plastic, and that other people purchase those pieces of plastic in order to share those. I think the best bands realize how laughable pop music is, even while they try to get the most from it. Bloc Party are a competent and likable band, and they write and play good songs. But they feel like they’re missing something.
The first four songs are terrific, “Helicopter” probably being the album’s best. The frantic energy and desperation of this opening is enough to silence my above misgivings, but the rest of the album is hit and miss, not really capturing the same intensity. From the other ten songs (on the US copy) “Pioneers,” “Price of Gas,” “Luno,” and “Plans” all show an expert grasp of rock dynamics, while all the other songs do their job, being quite pleasant and danceable. The lyrics are uniformly trite, but inoffensive. A forgettable and neat album.