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Every half hour or so, the U.K. music press proclaims that another new group deserves a spot on the pantheon of all-time greats. Still, few acts experience hype of the intensity absorbed by Bloc Party. New Musical Express named Silent Alarm, the outfit's breakthrough disc, as the top CD of 2005, and the following year, the mag upped the ante by declaring the release to be the 55th-finest British rock platter ever — better than the Clash's first album, Led Zeppelin's fourth, and plenty more notables. For Gordon Moakes, Bloc Party's bassist, this level of praise (which precipitated a backlash in the States) could have proven fatal.
"There was definitely a moment where we were anointed, and I think that would have gone to the heads of a lesser band," he concedes. "But we've always had a healthy kind of suspicion of everything that went with that, and just tried to ignore it and went on with the music."
That's not the half of it. When it came time to record A Weekend in the City, Silent Alarm's recently issued successor, the members of the Party — singer-songwriter/guitarist Kele Okereke, guitarist Russell Lissack, drummer Matt Tong and Moakes — deliberately set out to alter the jittery, post-punk dance style that had generated so many huzzahs. "We actually chased change harder than we might have done if it had just been allowed to happen naturally," he says.
In Moakes's view, the drawback to this methodology is that "sometimes you can't be as instinctive, and you follow paths maybe because you think you should." As for the pluses, he believes, "You get to places you never expected you'd reach, and that's great, because it's a leap of faith in that sense. You hope that where you land is going to be interesting, and it was."
He's right about that. Weekend isn't a total rewrite of Bloc Party's aural signature; "Hunting for Witches," among others, rides along on rhythms that continue to do the herky-jerk. Yet the likes of "Waiting for the 7.18" and "On" infuse familiar elements with a darker, more deliberate tone that synchs up with Okereke's words. His most somber moment comes on the concluding "SRXT," which qualifies as a lyrical suicide note.
American reviewers who were ready to dismiss Bloc Party as over-publicized prats have generally expressed admiration for the disc. Most English scribes are cheering the offering, too, albeit without the over-the-top ardor that greeted its predecessor — and that's fine by Moakes, who's already looking ahead. "The third album, I'd like to think, we'll get to make in a little more peace," he says.
Be careful what you wish for. British bands that live by the press can die by it as well.
For more of our interview with Bloc Party's Gordon Moakes, visit www.westword.com/blogs.