Album Review: Kele - 'The Boxer' (Wichita/Polydor)
So he’s come out of his shell and is showing his true colours. Kele from the Bloc’s got dancey, but will his past catch up with him?
Back in 2005, [a]Franz Ferdinand[/a]’s chief dandy [b]Alex Kapranos[/b] could have been forgiven for regretting his decision to hand [a]Bloc Party[/a] an almighty leg-up in their rise to prominence. The band personally gave the self-proclaimed arbiter of dance-rock a demo copy of [b]‘She’s Hearing Voices’[/b]; blessed with his approval, it went on to form the centrepiece of their debut LP [b]‘Silent Alarm’[/b], a snarling beast of a record that chewed up the doubt and discontent of 21st century existence. For all of Kapranos’ posturing about making guitar music for girls to dance to, it seemed as if it was [b]Kele Okereke[/b] and co, armed with such fizzing gems as [b]‘Helicopter’[/b] and [b]‘Banquet’[/b], who would be the ones driving the masses into shaking their meat to the beat.
Five years later, though, and Alex is probably allowing himself a wry chuckle. The past half-decade has seen [a]Bloc Party[/a] hindered by their own intelligence and artistry, caught between the dizzying raptures of their dance sensibilities and their heartfelt sentimentality; and for every breathtaking confessional ([b]‘This Modern Love’[/b], [b]‘Blue Light’[/b]) there was a slightly more clunky counterpoint ([b]‘Sunday’[/b], [b]‘Bilko’[/b]). Things reached breaking point with 2008’s [b]‘Intimacy’[/b], where big beats and chest-baring missives made for as uncomfortable bedfellows as Nick Clegg and David Cameron huddled round a table trying to bash out an agreement on foreign policy. Barely a year later, [a]Bloc Party[/a] confirmed they were on indefinite hiatus.
So with Kele’s recent guest turns on tracks by [b]The Chemical Brothers[/b] and DJ Tiesto, it’s tempting to see [b]‘The Boxer’[/b], his first solo LP, as the album he’s always wanted to make. How else to interpret [b]‘Walk Tall’[/b], the wobbling synths of which teeter over an ever-shifting backdrop similar to the quicksand mutations of [b]‘Mercury’[/b]? And if you don’t believe us, just listen to Kele. [i]“I don’t know what you’ve been told”[/i], he barks like a sergeant running his troops through a strenuous drill instruction, [i]“but this starts now: walk tall, walk tall”[/i]. Any lingering doubts are dispelled by his next order: [i]“Forget where you’ve been/Cut your ties to the past and wave it goodbye”[/i].
This is a record, then, that has the dancefloor firmly locked with its sights. Lead single [b]‘Tenderoni’[/b] has already started its assault on the airwaves; dark and twisted, it’s the frightening sound of some ungodly creature ominously rearing its head like the disturbed, slouching beast of WB Yeats’ [i]The Second Coming[/i] before its temper is quickly soothed by Kele’s soaring falsetto, which adorns the chorus like sprinklings of gold dust. Elsewhere, it’s only the crystalline melodies of [b]‘On The Lam’[/b] and [b]‘All The Thoughts I Could Never Say’[/b], propelled by metronomic drum-beats and electronic buzzes, that stop them being more suited to the pounding sound systems of Fabric than the tinny speakers of your bedroom.
Crucially, when the pace slackens, Kele is able to avoid the more mawkish missives which hindered Bloc Party’s later output. [b]‘Other Side’[/b] could have been lifted from Thom Yorke’s [b]‘The Eraser’[/b], with its fractious stop-start tempo and condensation-on-glass mutterings – and it’s paranoia, rather than heartbreak, that’s on Kele’s mind as he yelps, [i]“Why can’t you hear me? I’m calling out your name”[/i] while [b]‘Rise’[/b] builds from a gorgeous twinkling backdrop into a crescendo of cross-firing lasers.
Inevitably there are tell-tale signs that, despite the facelift, this is still Kele from the Bloc; [b]‘Everything You Wanted’[/b] borrows liberally from Chris Martin’s well-thumbed copy of Songwriting For Dummies, with its vague heartbroken platitudes and plinking piano, while [b]‘Unholy Thoughts’[/b] is a rally against religion which fails to channel the spirit of the enlightened preacher and settles instead for the bedraggled lunatic at Speakers’ Corner. The smart money, though, would be on Kele soon being capable of delivering that knock-out blow to his cloying past once and for all.
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Click here to get your copy of Kele’s ‘The Boxer’ from the Rough Trade shop