Bloc Party‘s Kele Okereke is the latest in a line of charismatic frontmen to go solo while bored of whatever it is his band is doing. He follows in the footsteps of the likes of Maximo Park‘s Paul Smith, Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke and to tenuously completely my apparent fantasy band, Big Boi of, erm, OutKast. His first album is ‘The Boxer’, unfortunately not an album of Simon and Garfunkel covers as I had originally dreamed, but an in places ‘Intimacy’ soundalike with less guitars and stuff.
Musically Kele wanders between dubstep, IDM, grime, electronic rock and various other genres sometimes all within one same song (see: ‘On The Lam’). And his music is indeed, unlike ‘Intimacy’, very good. The beats are fun, dark, trancey and harsh, and again unlike ‘Intimacy’ in all the right places. His vocal delivery is also excellent, but what really lets him down are his lyrics, which without fail will fall somewhere between ‘insipid’, ‘cringeworthy’ and ‘please can anyone provide a cyanidetini?’.
Take for instance the opener, ‘Walk Tall’; I was almost geared immediately to hate this album. It began with a pastiche of that military march thing that goes “I don’t know what I’ve been told…” or whatever it says (I’m nowhere near masculine enough to know), and I could feel many bile covered sentences brewing deep within the darkest depths of poor lyric writing. It later went on to note: “Rule number 2, do all you can do / Look them all in the eye, and leave them to fly / Rule number 2, be as bright as you can be”.
This was particularly upsetting, as not only is it exceptionally cheesy for a modern electronic/alternative rock song, but it kind of looks to be in that style of lyric that is vague, vacuous and empty, in an apparent attempt to have the opposite effect of being moody and deep. Thankfully there are instances such as on the pounding stand-out ‘Tenderoni’ that Kele distorts his voice and places it very low in the mix meaning I would have to go out of my way to find out what he is actually saying.
Apparently I was enjoying the album too much, as Kele unleashed a triumvirate of tedium at the midpoint of his album. ‘Everything You Wanted’ is an ‘I Still Remember’-style dirge (now with more ELECTRONICZ!), ‘The New Rules’ is a bizarre take on baroque-pop which feels very out of place, and ‘Unholy Thoughts’ was uninspired Bloc Part-by-numbers. Okay the last one wasn’t that bad, but triumvirate of tedium sounded a lot better than duo of dire. Thankfully the album comes out of its slump with a bang, with nicely built and crescendoing ‘Rise’ and the euphoric ‘All The Things I Could Never Say’. Crisis averted.
All in all then, ‘The Boxer’ is a good yet flawed album. It certainly does have its moments, and there are more than a few songs I could go back to on a track-by-track basis. However, Kele lyrically still hasn’t shaken off the dredged out juvenile feel that mires a lot of his songs, a problem that I’ve been troubled by from ‘Two More Years’ and onward. So while you enjoy it at the time, ‘The Boxer’ does not wet my appetite for any potentially forthcoming Bloc Party album, or come to think of it another Kele solo album.
Written by Paul Smith