The Kele Okereke Albums Ranked
Bloc Party is one of my favorite bands. So when frontman Kele Okereke, who variably releases music under his full name and the mononym Kele, went solo, I had to support. At the start of these efforts, the sensibilities aligned with Bloc Party’s deviation from guitar-based rock to electronic- and dance-inspired power pop. In fact, it went even further; Okereke’s solo career, for most of its earlier years, was defined by clubbing. His three EPs following debut LP THE BOXER, THE HUNTER (2011), HEARTBREAKER (2013), and CANDY FLIP (2014), were almost unrecognizable from what made Bloc Party so popular. And that’s totally fine, except that I’m not exactly a dance music/clubbing kind of guy. However, I won’t be considering those three EPs while I explore Okereke’s discography, made up of five full-length albums, in which I include Okereke’s self-performed soundtrack record to his musical LEAVE TO REMAIN (2019).
EDIT: Added THE WAVES PT. 1 to the list.
#6 — THE BOXER (2010)
Favorite track: “Everything You Wanted”
As was sort of implied, THE BOXER is Okereke’s danciest, beat-iest release so far. It’s upbeat, pounding, and although the intent may have been to make it “relentless” (as indicated by its title), THE BOXER ultimately slides into a bit of malaise in the middle of its run time. Again, the genre isn’t exactly what lights my fire, but I can appreciate it. Still, this debut was disappointing for me, although Okereke’s plaintive vocals and general musical talent still provide some hooky songs, such as the track “Everything You Wanted,” probably the most Bloc Party-esque thing on the record.
#5 — TRICK (2014)
Favorite track: “Like We Used To”
But to be clear, my evaluation of Okereke’s solo discography isn’t entirely based on how much it sounds like Bloc Party. In fact, much of it refreshingly doesn’t. That deviation isn’t quite as successful on TRICK, Okereke’s sophomore solo release, but it was a harbinger of the greatness to come, in hindsight. With TRICK, Okereke began leaning into his Nigerian heritage both visually and musically, an element that has continued throughout his releases in the five years since this record’s release. It provides a freshness compared to the “louder” songs on THE BOXER; TRICK is definitely a more muted album, but to its benefit. “Like We Used To” still has a dance-y beat, but Okereke’s ethereal vocals send you into a different place for sure, one of a general sadness and darkness but also relaxing reflection.
#4 — LEAVE TO REMAIN (2019)
Favorite track: “This Modern Love”
LEAVE TO REMAIN, the earlier release in Okereke’s politically minded 2019, tells the story of an interracial gay couple in the wake of Brexit. The feeling is that there is a lot of personal investment in the story. The tie-in album to the musical of the same name is performed by Okereke himself, and there lies some African musical inspiration underneath the whole thing, as introduced in TRICK. LEAVE TO REMAIN fuses this with a return to stronger, defined beats while keeping everything pretty on the DL, like TRICK; it’s not a dance album like THE BOXER. It’s kind of a cheat to select “This Modern Love” as my favorite song from the record, as a rework of my favorite Bloc Party song and the sole “cover” for the musical. But it’s a perfect example of the kind of sound I’m describing. LEAVE TO REMAIN may have fewer standout tracks than THE BOXER and TRICK (both of which aren’t exactly hit-making attempts and work best as full, album-length experiences), but its sonic commitment and emotional energy elevate it above those efforts.
#3 — THE WAVES PT. 1 (2021)
Favorite track: “How to Beat the Lie Detector”
After the political/social context of 2042 and its relative vitality, Okereke turned to a spacey, ethereal tone for THE WAVES PT. 1. Presumably, we’ll get a PT. 2 relatively soon, but in the meantime, we get another shift in the musician’s stylistic sensibilities. PT. 1 moves from instrumental to lyrical tracks and back again, but the whole album is centered on a looser sound than the driving beats or folk music inspiration of Okereke’s other releases. It’s interesting as a change of pace, but at times, the looseness can contribute to a loss of focus. There are a couple of notable exceptions, such as “How to Beat the Lie Detector,” which has some great pop hooks, but THE WAVES PT. 1 returns to a reflection on personal relationships with a new, moody musical matchup. As an album-length experience, it’s mostly enveloping and entrancing, if not fully engaging.
#2 — FATHERLAND (2017)
Favorite track: “Do U Right”
Okereke’s most dedicated ode to his Nigerian heritage, indicated not only musically but also by his hairstyle and full name on the cover (the former a subject he would return to on 2042 with the fittingly named track “Natural Hair”), FATHERLAND is also his most dedicated departure from dance beats within his solo career. I know I’ve said TRICK and LEAVE TO REMAIN do not carry the kind of energy on THE BOXER and its successive, related EPs, but FATHERLAND is truly focused on something else. It’s a folksy, alt pop record with an upbeat energy and even some jazz influence. “Do U Right” is just a lively, fun song amid some lively, fun songs and some lively yet kind of sad songs. It’s fitting that Corinne Bailey Rae is featured on the album, because FATHERLAND carries a lot of her mid to late 2000s pop-jazz-folk whimsy.
#1 — 2042 (2019)
Favorite track: “St Kaepernick Wept”
I was quite blown away by 2042, released just on November 8 of this year. I rarely truly love an album the first time I listen to it, and as the record progressed, I kept expecting at least one track to not impress me in some way. And yet that never happened. 2042 is Okereke’s politically charged fusion of all the sounds he’s developed over the course of Bloc Party’s and his own solo careers. It’s a dancey, angry, pushy, restrained, sad, alive record with a wide array of sounds that nevertheless make up Okereke’s most comprehensive, unified, and powerful artistic statement. “St Kaepernick Wept” is a bit on the nose with its title, but the song itself is driven by an overwhelming pulse of a backing chorus, easily the most compelling element of all of 2042. It’s impossible not to be moved by the instrumentation, while other songs are more effective in their lyrical content. As a big fan of Okereke and Bloc Party, I was incredibly impressed by the enveloping, transfixing effect of 2042. What an incredible step in an always enjoyable, always interesting, always varied solo career.