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Mightier than the Chord 

Bloc Party's sophomore release shrouds its own highlights

March 7-13, 2007

The ides of March is around the corner, and the mere anticipation of ambition has dogged every sophomore release this year so far. Even Bloc Party aren't immune, especially with their PR flak's lofty suggestion that their new disc, A Weekend in the City, is another OK Computer. (It isn't.) But unlike the Killers' musical murder of last year, Bloc Party's concept album receives only a misdemeanor noise complaint.

"Song for Clay" kicks City off uncharacteristically, with Kele Okereke's Morrissey-like crooning over gentle organs. "I am trying to be heroic in an age of modernity," he wails, the first in his many personifications of London disillusionment. But just as you settle into the self-destructive murk, on comes the familiar guitar throbbing and spastic drumming.

Much of the album follows suit, with arbitrary tempo shifts and regal vocal walls that show the band trading Gang of Four for Queen. The needless synthesizer blips, symphonic swells and U2 choruses appear to exist only for the sake of bombast. But Bloc Party's strengths--indelible melodies, taut chord crunch, shimmering arpeggios and more-soulful-than-Bowie vocals--persevere, providing enough audio Viagra to satisfy fans of their downright danceable first disc, Silent Alarm.

Sacrificed in the shuffle, though, is the proper context for Okereke's lyrics, which run the gamut from post-9-11 paranoia ("Hunting for Witches") to sexual promiscuity ("Kreuzberg"). While rapid axe-shredding distracts from the refreshing racism study in "Where Is Home?" everything coalesces on "I Remember," a sugary, Echo and the Bunnymen-like gem recalling an unfulfilled young gay romance that'll surely cause a fury of blogospheric speculation.

Any strong thematic cohesion is laid to rest by the second half, with its uniformly subdued reminiscences of youthful glory days, but Bloc Party still warrants our attention. Unlike Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the quartet's second record has, at the very least, staked a claim in the here and now, showing that their transcendence of buzz-band status is underway. Now, if they could just stick to one speed per song . . .

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