London four-piece Bloc Party burst onto the indie scene in 2004 with a few singles then their indie classic album Silent Alarm in 2005, fast forward to 2022 and they drop their fifth full length studio album, Alpha Games – their first in six years. The last ten years have been a bit lean for the band, but main man, Kele Okereke, has kept his creative juices flowing with a solo career since 2010, including three solo albums and a soundtrack in the last five years.
The first sign of new Bloc Party music was in late 2021 with the song Traps. The band – completed by Russell Lissack (guitar), Justin Harris (bass) and Louise Bartle (drums) – was being performed in soundcheck and is an obvious choice as a first single. It hints at the sound and vigour of Silent Alarm.
Their debut is now considered a classic; with its angular jangly guitar reminiscent of 70s post-punkers Gang Of Four, that it reignited the indie guitar scene, with acts such as Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads, The Kaiser Chiefs, and even The Kooks all going on to sell a shed load of albums. They performed Silent Alarm in full in 2019 and it seemed to reinvigorate the band into recording a new album.
As mentioned, this is their first full-length album since Hymns from 2016, which had more of an R&B feel, and first recordings with Harris and Bartle, who both joined the band in 2015. Hymns was disappointing; it was too much of a diversion from their familiar guitar led sound and disappeared without a trace. Alpha Games seems to be a throwback to their 00’s roots… almost.
The album kicks off with Day Drinker, a full-on banger that perks your ears up immediately. It features a chugging guitar riff and pounding drums. Straight into Traps and you feel that familiar sound of their 2005 debut is being echoed nicely here. So far so good. Bloc Party mean business.
They take a slight diversion on the next track, as they travel down the poppier route with the gentler You Should Know The Truth. It might seem like a gentle track on the surface but its a political track; inspired by Boris Johnston’s lies. Its definitely one of the weaker tracks on the album and perhaps should’ve been lower down the track order, as the following track, Callum Is A Snake, brings the tempo back up with its more urgent drums and angular riffs.
As we approach the middle of the album, the quality dips when the guitars take more of back seat. Rough Justice and The Girls Are Fighting are more synth-led tracks, while the sombre Of Things Yet To Come don’t offer much.
Sex Magik could’ve been a bonafide Bloc Party classic, but the band hold back and it ends up being just okay. Even though it features a great vocal performance by Okereke (and borrows a riff from their 2013 track Octopus), it meanders along at the same tempo. The urgency is missing.
Luckily, the remainder of the album does find this urgency. In Situ features some duelling guitars and is indie-rock at its best. If We Get Caught sounds like it would’ve easily fit on the bands second album, A Weekend In The City. It’s led by a mesmerizing jangly guitar riff and is one of the strongest songs on the album. Even though its tender moment on the album, the urgency is evident with some strong song writing.
The album ends with the slow builder The Peace Offering. It takes a while to get there but it’s worth the journey. Three quarters the way through all hell breaks loose with a euphoria ending, with Okereke’s voice soaring until the last note.
Alpha Games shines when they inject their energetic post-punk guitar-led sound, and less so the synth driven sound. A somewhat return to form, but its great having Bloc Party back!
Album Review By Darren Leach