Album Reviews

Bloc Party – Alpha Games

(Infectious/BMG) UK release date: 29 April 2022

At times harking back to the glorious early days of Silent Alarm, there’s evidence that the band’s line-up changes have reinvigorated them

Bloc Party - Alpha Games Bloc Party have been away for a while. It’s been six years to be precise, since they released Hymns, a more restrained, spiritually aware album than most Bloc Party fans were used to. Since then, the band have experienced something of a revamp, with Justin Harris and Louise Bartle providing a new rhythm section.

Alpha Games is the first album that the new line-up have been able to perform on, and the initial impression is a good one. The band sound revitalised, with an energy and aggression that hasn’t really been seen since the early days of Silent Alarm. Bartle in particular is an excellent addition, with several tracks being powered along by her dynamic drumming.

In fact, it’s Silent Alarm (still, by some measure, the band’s finest record) that Alpha Games is most reminiscent of. Opening track Day Drinker whizzes along, with several trademark Russell Lissack guitar riffs and some rapid-fire vocals from Kele Okereke – it’s a pretty blistering opener.

It’s followed by Traps, which keeps up the frantic energy but sees Okereke playing the part of a rather sinister predator – there’s talk of “strutting round here in those pum pum shorts” and “let me show you things they warned you about”. It would be a bit unsavoury, but the furious delivery of the song means it’s one of the best tracks on the album.

There are plenty of surprises scattered around Alpha Games. The Girls Are Fighting is almost glam rock, from the drum patterns to cries of “hey!”, while Okereke recounts a grim night at a club – “the girls are fighting, and the boys can’t cope”. Even slightly risible lines like “I blame the Jagermeister and the vodka lemonade” can’t disguise the menace.

At times though, it does threaten to go a bit awry. Callum Is A Snake is a dead ringer for The Streets‘ Don’t Mug Yourself, with Okereke slipping into half-spoken half-sung lyrics, telling us what a terrible person the titular Callum is. It’s frankly impossible not to laugh at lines like “Ooh you’re a wrong ‘un, I’m officially washing my hands of you”, which probably wasn’t the idea.

Of Things Yet To Come is far more successful, harking back to songs like So Here We Are, a reflective, soaring ballad with Okereke in fine voice. Although Sex Magik may conjure up visions of Red Hot Chili Peppers, it’s actually one of the more intriguingly different tracks on the album, full of repetitive, hypnotic beats that builds steadily but surely.

It’s true that the quality does drag during the second half of the album, with In Situ and If We Get Caught sounding like pale shadows of past glories, but The Peace Offering brings things to an unexpectedly fragile conclusion – a sombre, down-tempo number with Okereke’s spoken word vocals reflecting that “the system always wins”.

At times, Alpha Games does hark back to the glorious early days of Bloc Party, and while this doesn’t quite measure up to Silent Alarm, there’s enough evidence that the band’s line-up changes have reinvigorated them. As Okereke says on the aforementioned The Peace Offering: “I bet you can’t wait to find out what happens next can you? Patience…”. Hopefully, not too much patience will be required.

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More on Bloc Party
Bloc Party – Alpha Games
Bloc Party @ Village Underground, London
Bloc Party – Hymns
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Bloc Party @ Corn Exchange, Cambridge