Squashing Beatlemania 

Bloc Party avoids the hype and lets its rock do the talking

click to enlarge Bloc Party could give the Gallagher brothers a talking-to.
  • Bloc Party could give the Gallagher brothers a talking-to.

The English are a proud bunch especially their musicians.

Over the past few decades, we've seen many a bloke set his Brit-pop sights on American soil with an all-or-nothing desire to recreate Beatlemania. Fate hasn't treated them well Blur barely made a blip and Oasis spat its way across theaters. Radiohead's the sole success story, but its current stadium and amphitheater draw took years to brew.

So there's something to be said about a U.K. act that dismisses the hubris and instead concentrates on more important things like, say, its music.

This, ladies and gents, is Bloc Party.

"There are a lot English bands who set out to conquer America, but if you set your expectations too high, you're always going to be disappointed," says drummer Matt Tong. "And what does "conquering America' mean? Ultimately, that means playing arenas, and that's not really the background we're from. We weren't really groomed to play huge venues."

In many ways, Bloc Party arrived unheralded and unnoticed on American shores with the release of its 2005 debut, Silent Alarm. Positioned initially as yet another New Wave-inspired indie rock act whose members spent their teenage years listing to The Cure and bands of that ilk, this quartet became an underground fave among rock fans sick of transparent posturing by Franz Ferdinand and The Killers.

Silent Alarm was a grounded and thought-out affair, with compelling songwriting, engaging electronic elements and slightly political overtones. Critical American acclaim surrounded the group's debut effort, but in typical fashion, the band members felt unsatisfied.

"At the time, we were very proud of that record," Tong says, "but I think within a few months of finishing the album, it was clear that we could do a lot better and go into a different direction. I think you get caught in a rut being satisfied. And that really quickly leads to complacency."

Creative license can be tricky. But Tong says Bloc Party had nothing to lose, so when writing follow-up album A Weekend in the City, the group decided to redefine its use of electronics.

Then, not long before the February release, the band perhaps feeling more confident started creating an entire song using a computer. The result: mesmerizing lead single "The Prayer," which Tong says takes a stylistic direction fans could see the band exploring more in the future.

"The synthesis between electronic music and rock is a lot more coherent on this record, and the electronic side of things is definitely a lot more prominent," Tong says. "A lot of bands try to [use electronic], and it just seems they've done it for the sake of using new technology to embellish the songs. I think we were mindful of taking more of an organic approach."

The same mindset fuels the band's live shows. Uncharacteristically, Tong lets his guard down and shows some ego when discussing the band's onstage prowess.

"We're the genuine article because we're authentic," he says. "None of this stadium nonsense for us. You're just going to see four young men sweating and toiling to no discernible effects."



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