[UPDATE: Apparently I never used the phrase Bloc Party in the original post. D'oh! And that's why bloggers aren't taken seriously. Well, amongst other reasons. There's the lack of impartiality... overly enthusiastic and reactionary reviews... an affinity for gerunds and immature discourse... hmm, this is a pretty long list. OK, so aside from all those reasons, and about a hundred others that I can't think of right now, the absence of Bloc Party's name in my post is the main reason why blogs aren't taken seriously.
Anyway, I added a bunch more structural stuff, in the name of pleasing one important subset of my readership. And a picture.]
Bloc Party - A Weekend In The City
RATING: 4 possibly gay black lead singers out of 5
I had a hard time figuring out where this one should land. It's an excellent album, but given the album that precedes it (the instant-classic Silent Alarm) it's impossible to evaluate in isolation.
For all that Silent Alarm sounds good, its starkness muffles the band's energy and leaves rock-out potential on the table. They have more fire than anybody, and it doesn't come across as well as it could have on Silent Alarm. Further, their change-of-pace tracks ("Blue Light," the closing two tracks) are clearly inferior to the album's faster-paced lead tracks ("Helicopter," "Banquet"). On the whole, it's an uneven, imperfect album.
Not so with Weekend. The momentum they build in each track explodes like it's supposed to, finally showing the band in its natural, maxed-out state. "Uniform" is a prime example; that track needed to explode for it to work, and it wouldn't have on Silent Alarm. And where their earlier downtempo work comes off as boring, their slower tracks here ("On" being a standout example) prove to nobody's surprise that they can do more than just floor it. In that sense, Weekend is superior.
On the other hand, they suffer from the every-song-is-the-same syndrome. "The Prayer," "I Still Remember," and "Hunting For Witches" are the only songs that don't open with a calm vocal, add drums and a riff, and climax with an emoish chorus. Nearly every track works this way. This structure doesn't exist on Silent Alarm anywhere besides "This Modern Love," where it works so well primarily because it's idiosyncratic with respect to "Helicopter," "Banquet" et al. Here, so many tracks follow the formula that the subpar tunes of the bunch ("Kreuzberg," for example) are almost entirely forgettable. They have juice, but they fall short of the mark.
Not only that, but the power doesn't feel as organic as Silent Alarm's does. The songs all start... out... soft... and... thentheyGETREALLYLOUD!!!! While the production upgrade was sorely needed, as I pointed out earlier, I also can't criticize anyone who thinks Weekend is inferior because it's over-produced. It's a fair enough point, although I believe the inconsistency of the songwriting is at fault more than the production.
Further, I doubt "I Still Remember" would be as effective as it is without that production. What a perfect song... far and away their best work to date. The hook is so memorable and evocative, so classic, that you can't help but get suckered in. The subject matter (unrequited love between schoolboys) is extremely rare in what is fast becoming the mainstream of rock. While I stand in awe that Kele Okereke has the balls to put homosexual lyrics into the band's most instantly accessible pop song, the sincerity of his words are what makes "I Still Remember" work so well: the marriage of content to hook.
Anyway, I don't know that the superior/inferior argument can be resolved. It all comes down to taste. If I had to pick one, I'd still probably pick Silent Alarm. But there's so much to love about A Weekend In The City that it doesn't deserve to be considered a second fiddle. It's brilliant, well-executed, and a major leap towards prominence and legitimate stardom. They may be able to do better, but this album also removes any doubt that they will.