Bloc Party: A Weekend in the City

A Weekend in the City is the type of album made by bands that aren't quite sure where to go for their second statement to the world, after their first statement is received with almost universal acclaim.

Bloc Party

A Weekend in the City

Label: Vice
US Release Date: 2007-02-06
UK Release Date: 2007-02-05

Would it be unfair to blame Jacknife Lee for this?

I should explain: The recipients of Jacknife Lee's two highest-profile production jobs thus far have been Snow Patrol and U2 -- both of Snow Patrol's big hit albums (Final Straw and Eyes Open) were produced by Lee, and his involvement on U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb won the producer a Grammy. Lee was even the man tapped to remaster the entire U2 backcatalogue for release on iTunes. As such, it only makes sense that he would bring many of the same tricks and the same sensibility that he brought to those bands along with him on his stint at producing Bloc Party for its latest album, A Weekend in the City.

The problem is, Bloc Party is not Snow Patrol. Bloc Party is not U2. Bloc Party made its name on Silent Alarm as a little-band-that-could type that gets by as much on pure, unbridled energy as it does on any sort of strength in its songwriting. Snow Patrol and U2, for all of the differences between the two bands, get by on anthemic gestures and soaring vocal turns. Without going into which band is better than who, the production approach needs to completely change when you're going from a band that writes anthems to a band that writes white-hot fireballs.

Lee did not adapt. Or, perhaps, Bloc Party chose to adapt to him, in the hunt for greater exposure and an expanded audience. Either way, the result is a band that is playing to its greatest weaknesses, never managing to prove that those weaknesses will ever be overcome.

At the forefront in every sense is vocalist Kele Okereke, the face of the band, a face that bleats and grunts as much as it actually sings. And that's fine, as long as it's what the songs and the music call for -- his unique, distinctive, and pleasingly untrained voice was perfect for Silent Alarm, a setting more suited to raw emotion than any sort of musicality. A Weekend in the City, however, has moments like the verse of "The Prayer", an atonal mess of flat singing and multitracking in a song that also happens to have what might be the most beautiful chorus Bloc Party has ever written -- if anything else in the song could have gotten off the ground, it would be an unforgettable classic. As it is, it's fairly torturous hearing such a wonderful refrain surrounded by such a mess. Lee has done everything in his power, actually, to turn Okereke into a distinctive vocalist: he's added "ahhhh" vocals to the background ("Sunday"), he's tracked a second Okereke an octave below himself for an entire song to add strength to a particularly poor turn ("Where is Home?"), he even throws a flange on him for a second or two at a time ("Waiting for the 7.18"). The problem is, the tricks disguise nothing. They sound like tricks.

And then there's the anthemic stuff. Not everything should be an anthem. Words like "After sex / The bitter taste / Been fooled again / The search continues" should not be the repeated coda at the end of a building, fairly triumphant song. Unless the triumph is meant to be the acceptance, these are small words from a humbled man, not big thoughts from the enlightened as the music makes them sound. "Let's drive to Brighton on the weekend" is not suitable chorus fodder when that chorus is going to be sung ten times in a row with the exact same melody. It's as if every single song was written with the idea that it might just be the statement that defines the band for the rest of its career, and there's simply no need for that -- there's room on an album for small stuff, too.

Lee does manage to make this a clean-sounding album, I'll give him that. His electronic flourishes on songs like "Hunting for Witches" and "Where is Home?" are welcome, and "On" is a love song that highlights everything wonderful about this band -- the energy, the cryptic lyrics that point in the direction of literal meaning but never quite get there, the humility that is required of bands with somewhere to be. The beautifully subtle screeching strings flying over the top don't hurt, either.

Moments and songs like those are why I'm willing to give Bloc Party a mulligan for this one. A Weekend in the City is the type of album made by bands that aren't quite sure where to go for their second statement to the world, after a first statement that's received with almost universal acclaim. As such, a producer is brought in, to help guide them and mold them into a hit-making machine. Unfortunately, Jacknife Lee was the wrong producer choice, and the direction in which Bloc Party has traveled is entirely unsuited to its strengths -- rather than transcending the band's downfalls, Lee has amplified them. For now, Bloc Party should either play to its strengths or spend more time on the improvement of its deficiencies. As it is, for all its attempted grandeur, A Weekend in the City is little more than a stepping stone.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.