There’s connotations that come with calling an album ‘HYMNS‘ and stating that it’s a record about “faith and devotion”. Unless it’s obviously tongue it cheek, it comes across as unbelievably pretentious. It also tells you that the band has no sense of humour, that they’re very precious about themselves altogether and that they genuinely think these songs should be revered. Honestly, this can be forgiven if the music is halfway decent, but on their fifth album indie stalwarts Bloc Party can’t even manage that.
Still, things aren’t outright awful from the outset. Opening track and lead single ‘The Love Within’ is almost a guilty pleasure. It sounds like something that might play over the loading screen of the latest FIFA game, a compliment considering that’s how a lot of us discovered Bloc Party in the first place (‘Helicopter’, FIFA 06). With a chunky guitar-as-synth riff (I’m being nice), it’s a far cry from the scattershot guitar sound of their best known work, and it immediately establishes that this isn’t your older brother’s Bloc Party.
(Yes, I’m painfully aware that this track was named the third worst of 2015 by this very website…)
Prior to 2013’s imaginatively titled Four, rumours began circulating that the band where on the lookout for a new singer, with guitarist Russell Lissack allegedly having ousted Kele Okereke. The band ultimately decided to stay together, but following that summer’s tour, drummer Matt Tong exited the group, with bassist Gordon Moakes following suit some months later. HYMNS, if nothing else, confirms the rumours of tension between Orekerke and Lissack. Most of the songs sound like they where churned out by two people that dislike being in the same room. HYMNS is so stale, formulaic and boring that I’d half believe the pair were held at gunpoint by somebody from the record label (or perhaps the NME) and forced to make an album.
Alternatively, Tong and Moakes might have left on the basis that being in Bloc Party is just downright boring. Nearly every song here consists of the same two-note keyboard riff that struggles to evolve. Occasionally the sound of Lissack’s guitar, which was honestly always just a re-hash of Prince, Johnny Greenwood and Graham Coxon, fades in. Orekerke has stated he wanted this album to sound less “aggressive”, and this is the only level the album really succeeds at. During ‘The Good News’, a pneumatic drill outside sounded more exciting, and unlike what was playing through the headphones, it was probably serving some sort of purpose. ‘Into the Earth’ is the only track that sounds like it was written organically, and it still sounds underdeveloped and rushed.
The record’s mix puts Okereke’s vocal front and centre which only makes it more obvious how bland the album is. He sounds as waif-ish as the music he’s singing over, only distinct in how generic he sounds. As one might expect on album called Hymn’s the lyrics attempt to be “spiritual” in a very vague and clichéd manner. “The love within is moving upwards/the melody is taking over”, “I used to find the answers in the gospels of St. John/But now I fined them at the bottom of a shot glass” and “If you’re looking for devotion/then come to me/If your fearing your emotions/then come to me” are just some of the actual lyrics from the album.
HYMNS ultimately reminded me of Mumford & Sons’ last record. Wilder Mind is just as clichéd and generic as this, and it was clearly the work of band that was desperate to outlive it’s sell by date. In trading around their gimmicks, it highlighted how corporate and shallow they really where. It step beyond simply tarnishing their legacy, HYMNS will make you question any goodwill you ever had towards Bloc Party.