The Bloc Party Albums Ranked
Bloc Party is a very important band to me. With their debut record SILENT ALARM (which of course I’ll say more about soon enough), the British indie rock group cemented itself as a favorite of mine for all time. Their subsequent releases (there are six studio albums over the 17 years since the 2005 debut) accumulated distinct energies and made clear that Bloc Party was no one hit wonder. Much of the band’s success is attributed to Kele Okereke, as their frontman and primary lyricist and songwriter; he’s also had a tremendous solo career so far. But his collaboration with a couple of different lineups makes clear that Bloc Party, for all the direction Okereke puts in, is a different and unique affair.
Note: among the various remix and live albums and EPs, I especially listened to THE NEXTWAVE SESSIONS (2013) EP as a wholly original work, although it is not ranked here.
#6 — HYMNS (2016)
Favorite track: “So Real”
Almost right out of the gate from SILENT ALARM’s guitar-oriented success, Okereke and Bloc Party started a push-and-pull with electronic music influence. This resulted in a couple albums in the band’s discography that are more dance than they are rock, and HYMNS is one of those. It’s not the uber-dancey Bloc Party record, and Okereke would indeed make real club music in his solo career, but the group’s fifth album is also unfortunately their worst. That’s a relative statement, however, as HYMNS still serves up some really compelling and fun music, in another push-and-pull Bloc Party has always worked with (that of the sad ballad and the ecstatic track). In this case, the dichotomy is more compelling when it’s in the downbeat camp, as with “So Real.” HYMNS greatest weaknesses come out of the poppier tracks, playing within an almost cheesy sound that marks Bloc Party’s only approximation of something rote.
#5 — A WEEKEND IN THE CITY (2007)
Favorite track: “Song for Clay (Disappear Here)”
A WEEKEND IN THE CITY, Bloc Party’s second album, is a notorious sophomore slump. Their debut record was so widely praised that anything to follow it would come up against a tough challenge in positive recognition, and A WEEKEND IN THE CITY didn’t measure up, as many saw it. The mixed consensus didn’t assign it terrible status, however, and while I generally agree that this album didn’t match the incredible quality of SILENT ALARM, I do think A WEEKEND IN THE CITY is a rich aural experience that requires a bit more digging into. It’s not as accessible a record, which could be attributed to Okereke’s wordier and unwieldier lyrics, a more electronic production, and quite simply, a reduction of catchy riffs and choruses. But “Song for Clay (Disappear Here)” matches anything to be found on SILENT ALARM, and even tracks like “Hunting for Witches,” which I found to be initially off-putting, yield rewarding listens after a couple of tries. The second album could never live up to the energy of the first, and in their own way, Bloc Party followed up their huge debut a la Weezer’s PINKERTON (1996), a darker and more personal record that alienated a portion of their audience. The only difference is that A WEEKEND IN THE CITY isn’t quite a misunderstood masterpiece, but rather a great record that was probably written off too quickly.
#4 — ALPHA GAMES (2022)
Favorite track: “You Should Know the Truth”
Bloc Party’s back, baby. ALPHA GAMES, the impetus for this piece, is the band’s latest release at the time of this writing, and comes after the biggest gap between records: it’s been over six years since HYMNS. But after that nadir comes a significant improvement. While ALPHA GAMES is technically a middling entry in the Bloc Party canon, it still stands on its own as a great rock record. There are just so many catchy tunes on this thing, ecstatic little ditties like “You Should Know the Truth.” But of course, since it’s Bloc Party, everything is still infused with a sort of angst or melancholy, represented by a fully immersive sonic atmosphere. The sad songs are tear-jerking and the upbeat “hits” are fun. Yes, ALPHA GAMES acknowledges and works within a guitar-oriented framework a la SILENT ALARM (every critic will contend that Bloc Party will always be chasing that ghost), but it shows an evolution in a songwriting and production approach…even if that evolution doesn’t hit the same way.
#3 — INTIMACY (2008)
Favorite track: “Zephyrus”
In my blurb on HYMNS, I mentioned that Bloc Party has made a couple of electronic/dance-y records. INTIMACY is the other example of this, and it’s even more overtly club-y than HYMNS. But because it’s Bloc Party (and Okereke, who would shortly experiment with this sound even more with his solo career), the tracks that make up the album aren’t chart-chasing hits or pure bubblegum. The lyrics still deal with breakups and other melancholy topics, interspersed with more aggressive and upbeat concepts, but INTIMACY’s real success is integrating more unconventional song structures to the electronic beat format. “Zephyrus” is the perfect example of this, a choral opus that also happens to have a pounding bass-beat underneath it. INTIMACY was and is the greatest break from the sound that made Bloc Party famous, but in doing so, the band made something unique, and more importantly, something immediately enjoyable and intriguingly deep.
#2 — FOUR (2012)
Favorite track: “Truth”
Bloc Party’s fourth album, appropriately titled FOUR, is beautiful, perhaps even more so than SILENT ALARM. Maybe I’m attributing this emotion to my favorite track, “Truth,” but the smooth production and incredible songwriting polish are so palpable on this record. It’s not that everything on FOUR is downbeat; album closer “We Are Not Good People” is probably the closest the band has gotten to the metal genre. But my total takeaway from the record is that it was intricately crafted, its sound developed and refined into poppy rock-y indie-y dance-y goodness. As has been noted a couple of times now, Bloc Party returned to a guitar-oriented rock sound after their overt electronic experiment (in this case, INTIMACY), but as opposed to SILENT ALARM, the band committed to even more poppy hooks on FOUR, albeit with some dalliances with the heavier side of rock on “3x3” and the aforementioned “We Are Not Good People.”
#1 — SILENT ALARM (2005)
Favorite track: “This Modern Love”
Although I said FOUR is perhaps more beautiful even than SILENT ALARM, Bloc Party’s first album, their debut is certainly better. In fact, it’s a near perfect album as I see it. And where FOUR seems very intentionally crafted and refined, SILENT ALARM pours out of Okereke’s voice and the band’s music like an emotional musical tidal wave. It’s all-killer-no-filler material, with track after track satisfying a different emotional impulse with groovy and moving riffs. Bloc Party is seen as a millennial harbinger of indie guitar rock, but even in their “raw” debut, the band was immediately aware of eccentric and enveloping, almost symphonic arrangements. This can all be heard on “This Modern Love,” Bloc Party’s best track and indeed a candidate for one of my favorite songs of all time. SILENT ALARM is a masterpiece, and while Bloc Party hasn’t attained the same heights of their first energetic angst-fest, seeing their evolution from the greatness of this album has been a total pleasure as well.