With their sophomore release, A Weekend In The City, Bloc Party faces incredibly high expectations, after the break-through success of their debut, 2005’s Silent Alarm. Weekend had to be similar enough so as not to upset current fans, but also different enough so as not to be merely an unoriginal retread.
The album largely threads that needle, delivering the band’s trademark emotional Britpop/rock, but lessening the gangly guitars, while adding more techno/electronic beats, making a darker, more affecting record.
However, all of that pales next to the major issue of all albums: Are the songs any good? On this measure, A Weekend In The City is a frustratingly and almost mind-bogglingly mixed bag. Using the same basic building blocks throughout, Bloc Party has crafted some impressively moving compositions, some pouty moans, and some middle-of-the-road tunes. For instance, on almost every song, they open with a guitarless vocal and beat intro. On some tracks, it evokes high school-level emo; on others, stirring poetry; and on yet others, just an intro.
The second half of A Weekend In The City is where it really shines. “Where Is Home?” shows how best to use this stripped-down opening, as well as to mesh the distinct techno beats with their guitar sound. The strings-heavy “Kreuzberg” is probably the most poignant song on the album, but “I Still Remember” is probably the best song overall. With its straight-up, even hopeful touch, it perfectly matches its incredible guitars. “Sunday” is an effective melding of the strings of “Kreuzberg” and guitars of “I Still Remember”.
Unfortunately, many listeners might not make it that far, or even buy the album, as the first half contains “The Prayer”, also the first single. With a pushy techno beat, lack of inventiveness, and rather whiney lyrics about wanting to be cool, “The Prayer” is an incredibly poor choice for airplay, not just for not particularly engaging, but also for being unrepresentative of A Weekend in the City. For the most part, the only pieces that “The Prayer” truly resembles are the following: “Uniform” (whose lyrics about the youth are as shallow as its title) and “Go”. While “Go” at least feels like the best bits of “The Prayer”, “Uniform” manages to be even worse: “The Prayer” is the second-shortest track on the release, yet feels like it goes on too long; “Uniform” is the longest track on the album, and feels like it’s a second disc entirely.
No one listening to A Weekend In The City would think it was Silent Alarm, but they would still know that it’s Bloc Party. However, they might not recognize that all the songs on Weekend come from the same album, or at least not want to believe that. Its mix of guitars, electronic beats, and expressive vocals deliver some moments of brilliance, some moments of banality, and some moments in-between.