Kele Okereke – ‘2042’ review: Bloc Party frontman wows with politically charged funk and experimental electro

Score

Okereke’s most ambitious work to date combines glitchy guitars and West African beats to eviscerate the powers that be

Kele Okereke is no stranger to politics. He recently wrote music to accompany the anti-Brexit play Leave to Remain, and this extremely outspoken new album follows suit. Its predecessor, 2017’s ‘Fatherland’, saw the Bloc Party singer anticipating becoming a father for the first time.

Here Okereke has gone back to his fierce experimental roots; the folk leanings of ‘Fatherland’ feel like a distant echo. The assured sonics on ‘2042’ mirror the commanding social commentary, as he scrutinises the fractured world his children (he has a second on the way) will inherit. Okereke explores what it means to be black, British and gay in 2019.

What he finds frequently unsettles and devastates: ‘2042’ is both a call for urgent action and a manifesto for imperative change.

“While London burns / While Grenfell burns / Can we start again?” he pleads on the album’s central track ‘Let England Burn’, on which he calls out the government for creating painful divisions. On the guitar-led ‘A Day of National Shame’, he samples Labour MP David Lammy’s scathing speech to the House of Commons on the Windrush scandal. We also hear an emotive interlude from a Windrush voice on ‘Where She Came From’; both moments urge listeners to empathise, understand and create change.

Musically, this is Okereke’s most ambitious work, as he fuses funk and Afrofuturism with experimental electro, glitchy guitars and West African beats. It’s a heady mix that might not be for Bloc Party fans – and perhaps less so for those who enjoyed the acoustic simplicity of ‘Fatherland.’

Yet the compositions here seem to warrant a changing style to match the confusion and fear Okereke is conveying – and in that sense, this new style works. At 16 tracks, the album is long, but this is justified by the vast tapestry of ideas that he explores.

‘2042’ is also an album that looks back as much as it looks to the future. The cover depicts him holding a picture of his Nigerian grandparents and Okereke examines his roots on ‘Cyril’s Blood’, a song on which he imagines his grandfather’s life in Nigeria. Okereke looks at the division and racism that existed during his grandfather’s generation and compares it to now, often painting a picture of painfully slow change.

‘Jungle Bunny’ sees him takes aim at one of his musical heroes, Kanye West, for his love of President Trump. The lyrics leave little to the imagination: “Go back to your home in Calabasas… On a gated street / Where life is sweet/ But no one looks like you.” 

Yet Okereke finds hope in writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi, Derek Owusu and Octavia Butler. Okereke’s own writing on ‘2042’ feels like his boldest to date. This is a vital touchstone in documenting the lives of those who must negotiate multi-faceted racial and sexual identities against a backdrop of continuing division.

It’s the social commentary that makes this experimental album feel vital and unifying. Okereke lyrically eviscerates the politicians who’ve caused divisions based on race, wealth, sexuality and gender, but also offers a vision of hope and a desire for England to rebuild.

Details

Release date: November 8
Record label: KOLA Records