Bloc Party are rumoured to have new music on the way – and, this time, it’s almost impossible to predict what they’ve been hard at work creating. Having recently replaced departed drummer Matt Tong and bassist Gordon Moakes with Louise Bartle and Justin Harris, the Kele Okereke-led four-piece have new members and a new look, judging by their new promo shots (see above). While we wait to see what’s in store on Album 5 from the ‘Banquet’ hit-makers, here’s their best tracks from across their decade since scintillating debut ‘Silent Alarm’…
This radio-friendly single, released hot on the heels of second album ‘A Weekend In The City’ then included in its re-release, indicated a dancey new direction for the band, then previously more known for indie disco jangles. Hitting number 8 in the UK Singles Chart, it’s their third most successful single to date behind ‘The Prayer’ and ‘So Here We Are’. Although frontman Kele has explored that synthy sound on his own solo albums, this remains one of his seldom dance-floor orientated moments in Bloc Party.
Following 2008’s ‘Intimacy’, Bloc Party took an indefinite hiatus, returning in style with this undeniable anthem, filled with breathy, falsetto vocals and eventually reaching a blistering solo from mop-haired guitarist Russell Lissack. It was proclaimed a return to form, but the remainder of their 2012 album ‘Four’ seemed to many like an unadventurous retread of their 2005 debut’s post-punk sound. Still, great single, right?
8 ‘Where is Home?’
Bloc Party’s sparest, most plaintive composition to date begins with several layers of Kele’s vocal in unison, singing about a grieving mother. It’s so uncomfortably intimate you can almost hear the spit in his mouth. Confronting media racism, the song was inspired by the story of Christopher Alaneme, a black teenager stabbed to death in South East England in 2006. Kele’s anger, boiling over, makes him “want to stamp on the face of every young policeman, to break the fingers of of every old judge, to cut off the feet of every ballerina.” You don’t forget this one easily.
7 ‘Better Than Heaven’
Glitchy, atmospheric and morose, ‘Better Than Heaven’ was a blackly humorous standout from 2008’s eclectic ‘Intimacy’. Swerving the rest of that LP’s supersized guitars for simplicity and restraint, it’s a story of religion and faith delivered with a brutally flat, sardonic snarl.
At the opposite of the ‘Intimacy’ spectrum is ‘Mercury’, a shock-and-awe electro assault on the senses that parodies astrology in its explosive exploration of a doomed relationship. Fun fact – the squeaky ‘eh’ vocals that introduce the chorus were manipulated and reused on the album’s opening track, ‘Ares’. It’s all connected, guys.
5 ‘Hunting for Witches’
A precursor to ‘Mercury’, if you like – at least in the disconcerting vocal samples that open ‘Hunting For Witches’. Full of supernatural imagery, this single demonstrated Bloc Party’s evolution from their scrappy, raw debut into a more cerebral outfit. Kele Okereke’s lyrics decry the media’s xenophobic reaction to terrorist attacks – but releasing the song as a single on July 9 2007, just over two years after the 7/7 attacks, was seen as inflammatory by some.
“So underrated”? Not this much-loved 2005 single, which hit Number 13 in the UK and remains probably their best-known track. Taut and lean, it’s a pop song disguised in scuzzy indie glad rags. The reason it sits at the top of their Spotify chart is probably because it’s appeared in over 25 separate TV and film sequences since 2005, including ‘Entourage’, ‘The O.C’ and Soccer AM’s All-Sports Show.
3 ‘Ion Square’
The hazy sonic atmosphere on ‘Ion Square’, which sees out the end of ‘Intimacy’, sounds like steadily shifting sand, or the hiss of steam. Its six minutes are a hypnotic swirl of swerving synth pulses, steady keys, as Okereke dreamily asks: “Who said unbroken happiness is a bore?”
2 ‘This Modern Love’
It’s recognisable in less than a second, possibly the most romantic indie track of the 2000s, and full of pained, teenage lyrics just begging to be scribbled on a journal. “You told me you wanted to eat up my sadness/Well jump on, enjoy, you can gorge away.” There are shimmering, big-hearted guitar effects and glockenspiel twinkles, and you just don’t get call-and-response stereo effects executed like this any more. A classic.
Could it really have been anything else? This is easily Bloc Party’s defining song – they’ve never hit the same whirling heights as they did with ‘Helicopter’, a brash attack on someone “so American… so James Dean, so blue jeans”. It’s commonly believed he means George W. Bush, who had recently decided to fuck with the Iraq at the time of writing, “just like his dad”. Incendiary, but with a riff this inescapable, it’s not really the political lyrics you stick around for.