I’m sure that there are many middle-aged former post-punkers who are absolutely thrilled right now. After all, Gang of Four, one of the most influential bands that noone has ever heard of (go ahead, try imagining Franz Ferdinand or Interpol without them, I dare you), has recently announced that, not only are they re-releasing their classic Entertainment! album, but they’re also reforming and going on tour! As Rolling Stone put it, there are countless black turtleneck-clad art professors who are absolutely giddy right now.
However, it will be interesting to see if Gang of Four will be able to put all of the young upstarts and pretenders to the throne back in their place, if they’ll be able to show them how it’s done and send the young pups back to the books. However, listening to Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm, their first full-length after several acclaimed EPs, it’s obvious that this quartet has already had this in mind. Although the Gang of Four influence is still apparent, as well as those of Joy Division and The Cure, the band hasn’t been content to merely rest on their influences. Here, they’ve refined and branched out their sound a bit more.
Don’t get me wrong — the unmistakable strain of early ‘80s post-punk is still the dominant strain here. However, Bloc Party plays very ably within those narrow confines, fleshing out the sound, playing with different structures and tones. While this has the benefit of preventing the band from coming across like a pack of rip-off artists, it also has the effect of dulling their sound somewhat. Silent Alarm isn’t nearly as focused or concise as their earlier material, and of the 14 songs on the disc, 3 or 4 could easily have been cut, removing some considerable filler from the CD.
“This Modern Love” and “Little Thoughts” are not bad songs, but they’re also rather generic, almost emo-by-the-numbers that had me wondering if the band hadn’t listened to the likes of Jimmy Eat World a bit too much. And “Plans” starts off solid enough before devolving into needless guitar wankery that, if I didn’t know better, I would assume had been recorded with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
However, those few missteps aside, Silent Alarm is a very solid rock album that has continued to grow on me in a big way. The album gets off to a very good start with “Like Eating Glass,” which quickly reveals the band’s secret weapon — drummer Matt Tong, whose playing is the CD’s most dynamic and exciting element. During “Like Eating Glass,” he’s all over the kit, laying down rhythms that seem to have no rhyme or reason, and yet never falter one bit. Which means the rest of the band simply does their best to keep up and try to prevent Tong from becoming too unhinged.
The disc’s highlight comes in the form of “Pioneers” and “Price of Gas,” two tracks that I simply have been unable to get enough of since I started listening to the album. The former has a heavy Cure influence — I can’t be the only one who hears “10:15 Saturday Night” in the opening guitars — and the rest of the song builds, buoyed by Gordon Moakes’ bass and Tong’s explosive percussion, to an explosive chorus where vocalist/guitarist Kele Okereke’s strained voice takes on a Robert Smith tenor. “Price of Gas” is one of the disc’s harshest tracks, literally, and one of the most Gang of Four-esque due to the brittle shards of guitar that ricochet throughout the song and are batted about by Tong’s jittery drumming.
One of the more intriguing tracks on the disc is the almost-downtempo “Compliments,” which closes out the album on dark, windswept atmospherics and a bassline that seems intent on burying itself in the cold, hard ground. Some slight respite comes in the form of an uplifting guitar melody that sweeps through the song and raises it up.
It’ll be interesting to see how this disc holds up in a month, 6 months, a year. I’m certainly enjoying it quite a bit right now, though I have doubts as to its durability and shelf-life. There are a number of bands that have emerged in recent years that work with the same sounds as Bloc Party — Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, Radio 4, Calla, The Great Depression — and so I wonder if they’ll end up getting lost in the shuffle, or rising above their peers and influences.