From the club to the bedroom, the Bloc Party frontman explores the empty sensuality of sleeping with complete strangers.
Trick. The word elicits thoughts of deception, sleight of hand manipulation, sexual hustling, and emotionally hollow one-night stands.
Kele Okereke’s sophomore album of the same title, “charts the moment of initial attraction through to the dissolution of the relationship”. From the club to the bedroom, the Bloc Party frontman explores the empty sensuality of sleeping with complete strangers. Use and be used. The arousing thrill of the chase and the excitement of a new love dominate the first half of the record, while loneliness, regret, self-reflection, and desperation loom heavily over the remainder.
There's nothing particularly revelatory about the subject matter or the sounds presented here, and Okereke’s confessional lyrics, while unflinchingly honest, are rarely as interesting as his emotionally nuanced delivery of them. Kele’s voice displays unprecedented depth in color and timbre throughout the duration of Trick, and there's a warm intimacy and sensuality about it that hasn’t always been present on past recordings. Yet, while the album succeeds in furthering the mystique of its creator and flaunting his vocal gifts, it's seldom as sonically inventive as Okereke probably intended.
For those who anticipated a sound akin to the post-punk revivalist vibe of the band he has fronted since 2003, Kele’s confident solo debut The Boxer (2010) was a noticeable stylistic detour. If they had heard the British band’s electronic-laced album Intimacy, the change in direction wouldn’t have been too terribly jarring. Okereke’s subsequent EPs, The Hunter,Heartbreaker, and Candy Flip eschewed solid narrative for mood alone, one with sights firmly aimed at the dancefloor. As if a reaction to the alt-electro route he had embarked upon, Bloc Party returned with guitars blaring in 2012, delivering the hard-edged Four. Agitated, abrasive and flexing an aggressive sound, the album confirmed that the band still had plenty of shelf life left in them.
In the two years since its release, Kele became a prominent DJ, gigging in nightclubs across North America and Europe, and the “late-night feel” of his new album was directly influenced by what he observed behind the DJ booth. The album gathers inspiration from downtempo R&B, Chicago house, UK garage, and retro-gazing ‘80s electronica to varying degrees of success. Make no mistake, Trick is a dance album, but seldom does it seem ideally suited for a swarming, sweat-drenched dance floor.
Touted as “a deeply personal journey into night”, Okereke has described his latest effort as a “comedown” record, chronicling the thoughts, emotions, and mood of the post-clubbing hours, when the festivities have died down and the effects of narcotics and alcohol have dissipated. The atmosphere is hypnotically dark, warm, sensual and distinctly nocturnal, yet claustrophobic, volatile and woozy like a lingering hangover. “First Impressions”, the album’s opening track, sounds like it was lifted from the setlist of a Buddha-Bar compilation or Ministry of Sound’s The Chillout Session. Whether one considers that a compliment or not, depends on their preference, but the sophomoric lyrics detract from what otherwise is a satisfying intro to the record. The first two songs are accompanied by a sultry female voice; the track features Yasmin Shahmir, who can be heard on Gorgon City’s debut album Sirens. The vocal chemistry is palpable between the two singers, thankfully distracting from lines like "I’ve been drowning in thoughts of you and me / stuck in my head, just like a melody".
“Coasting” floats along on a shuffling beat, a wash of ghostly synths and plaintive, lustful cries, boasting one of Trick’s best choruses. “Doubt”, “Humour Me” and “My Hotel Room” provide some energetic, four-to-the-floor distractions from the decidedly mid-tempo pace of the record. When heard within the context of its companions, muscular track “Doubt” is still the obvious lead single. Kele sings "with your love, I’m confident", perfectly reflecting the self-assured production surrounding him.
The house track, “Humour Me”, never reaches the melodic heights its old-school beat and menacing low synths promise, and the chorus is relatively non-existent, making it one of the album’s more frustrating instances of unfulfilled promise. The slinky, throbbing pulse of “My Hotel Room” paints Okereke in an interestingly sinister light. The coy lyrics seem like innocent, eye-rolling pick up lines at first, but as the song unfolds and Kele lets out a laugh mid-chorus, "My hotel room, it’s not that far", starts to resemble Mary Howitt’s poem, The Spider and the Fly: “Will you walk into my parlour?”
The quietly pounding, melancholic “Like We Used To” is a grower of a track, slowly revealing its doleful charms as Kele utilizes a lilting falsetto to question his lover about the state of their slowly unraveling relationship. The second song to feature a female duet partner, “Closer” is the shimmering gem of the album. Okereke leaves the addictive chorus to the beautiful voice of Jodie Scantlebury, who began her career as a jazz singer before singing back-up vocals on Roisin Murphy’s ‘Overpowered’ tour and fronting the English duo Aloosh. While the collaborations are some of Trick’s strongest suits, song like “Year Zero” truly showcase the depth of Kele’s vocal range. Okereke pleads to his lover to keep the past to herself, to put it behind her so that they can focus on building something together. There’s a hypnotic urgency to the emotionally fraught chorus that really drives home the desperation of the narrator.
The penultimate track, “Silver and Gold”, is strangely upbeat after all that proceeded it, and while the choral effects are lovely, the piercing yelp that appears in the track’s introduction proves to be irritating by the song’s conclusion. The album ends on a cold, unremarkable note with the thoroughly forgettable “Stay The Night”. Lines such as "you just don’t want to get sprung", and "let me feel you / let me please you / just roll another J / and be cool", are so incongruous with the lyrical content of rest of the album, that they bring the album to a grinding halt. It is puzzling conclusion, to the say the least.
Kele Okereke is far from the first indie artist to step away from the alt-rock fold and try their hand in composing electronic-based music. Skunk Anansie’s lead singer Skin, whose blistering soprano was always paired with searing electric guitars, dabbled in synth pop to surprisingly brilliant results on her debut solo album Fleshwounds over a decade ago. Fellow chameleon-esque artist VV Brown who, like Okereke, refuses to be placed within one stylistic box, embraced dark electronic textures instead of jangly pop rock on her sophomore album Samson & Delilah, and even invited Kele to sing a duet on the record.
As long as there are musicians in the field who desire to push the envelope and challenge their aesthetic, albums such as Trick will continue to appear. It's a perfectly enjoyable record, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. One can hear countless references throughout the record, from Burial to the xx to Thom Yorke and Azari & III, but what it lacks in innovation, it more than compensates with solid song craft and the presence of Okereke’s gorgeous instrument. Trick sees Kele throwing many ideas upon a canvas. It's just a shame that it's already splattered with the paint of his predecessors.