Bloc Party: Alpha Games – album reviewBloc Party: Alpha Games

(Infectious)

LP | CD | DL

Available from 29 April 2022

Buy from Sister Ray

8/10

Bloc Party’s Alpha Games is always thrilling, the work of a band invigorated and with something to say in these troubled times.

Bloc Party’s Alpha Games is an album of our times. No, it’s not yet another rumination on the sociological, existential, and mental health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s not that reductive. Instead, the 12 unflinching tracks carry an underlying sense of discomfort, unease, dread; that low-level feeling surely everybody’s had over the past five years that something’s not quite right. The only relief is provided by moments of despair, outbursts of rage, and sparkles of beauty.

But if Bloc Party’s sixth album seems unbearably bleak, it’s not. Alpha Games is always thrilling, the work of a band invigorated by touring their punchy debut Silent Alarm during 2019, and by fully involving their relatively new rhythm section. Although bass player Justin Harris and drummer Louise Bartle have been onboard since 2015 (with the former even appearing on 2016’s Hymns), Alpha Games is the duo’s first album as fully fledged members.

Whether it’s their presence, or the moral bankruptcy of UK politics and public behaviour that fuelled much of the lyric writing and associated outrage, singer Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack haven’t sounded this visceral on record since 2007’s A Weekend In The City.

Album opener Day Drinker, which begins with a drum roll, sets the tone. Over the relentless beat and ominous guitar licks of the verses, Okereke redefines the term “machine-gun delivery” and positively spits the line “What you’ve got to watch is your conniving tongue”. The choruses have his voice soar and the guitars chime. And the final threatening minute is all grimy, unpredictable riffing and soloing.

The breathtaking Traps is even more propulsive — pounding, buzzing, and sawing — with another gloriously melodic chorus that barely masks the menace of the line “Cute like Bambi, put your head into a trap”. By comparison, You Should Know The Truth sounds almost sunny with its shimmering guitars, angelic outro voicings, and Okereke sing-song repeating the title as if it’s a nursery rhyme. But, of course, the bridge goes full-blown minor chord anguish.

Callum Is A Snake is an unfiltered two-minute take down that veers from drum & bass to savage indie rock, climaxing with the line “Ooh, you’re a snide little fuck” spat out with all the venom of a man crossed. Lyrically, the masterful Rough Justice is more obtuse (apparently a fiction about high-powered socialites with a secret criminal connection) but musically is just as nimble and even more oppressive — like the soundtrack of a David Fincher thriller. The Girls Are Fighting, in turn, sounds like glam rock on speed and (complete with “hey hey” gang vocals) will surely become a fist-pumping live singalong, even as it deals with violence, lies, and betrayal.

The beautiful, shimmering Of Things Yet To Come — all soft synths, muted drums, and echoing guitars — offers a temporary musical respite from all the drama. But a regretful Okereke sounds like he’s mourning the loss of a relationship before the music takes on a familiar urgency that carries on to the pulsating Sex Magik. Ostensibly about a short-lived relationship he’d had as a teenager, the singer looks back on a time that changed his outlook on life forever, while grappling with the associated loss of innocence.

By Any Means Necessary most directly reflects the album title, with the succeed-at-all-costs attitude of political leaders making its way into everyday life. “Eyes on the prize,” intones Okereke while the rest of the band get dark and sinister again. Lissak, Harris, and Bartle up the intensity even further on In Situ, a call to arms that perfectly sums up Bloc Party in 2022: the singer says it’s “about remembering that you used to have things that you wanted to say and do”.

Almost as if on cue, the immediate If We Get Caught follows, sounding not unlike the most vital tracks on A Weekend In The City, before The Peace Offering signals a possible future direction for Bloc Party. Beginning slowly and quietly, with Okereke looking back pensively on an important but toxic relationship, he almost whispers words and phrases like “violence”, “patience”, “don’t take it so personally”, and “I don’t need your peace offering”. Of course, this being Alpha Games, the track slowly evolves into something more anguished. As the music becomes more angular, the vocalist sounds ever more desperate, declaring “I think it’s better if you stay where you are and I continue to support you from afar”, before settling on a resigned “Do the right thing”.

It’s a complex maelstrom of human emotion — like the album as a whole.

Buy/listen here.

You can find Bloc Party on their website as well as FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

~

Words by Nils van der Linden. You can visit his author profile for Louder Than War here. He tweets as @nilsvdlinden and his website is www.nilsvanderlinden.com. He hosts the weekly Mood Swings show on Louder Than War Radio, live every Wednesday from 8-9pm here, and available on Mixcloud afterwards.

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Once upon a time, in Cape Town, South Africa, Nils was a full-time entertainment journalist. Now, in London, he's just a wannabe.

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