"Just make it count". So goes the war cry that envelops ‘Ratchet’, one of Bloc Party’s more out there and thus polarising pop assaults. They’ve flirted with declaring war before, of course, only ‘Ratchet’ is a great deal more sarcastic and self-centred than the manic ‘Ares’. It’s stranger, too; a quite unwieldy number that finds Kele Okereke at full volume, gleefully spouting off colloquial lines against a potentially headache-inducing riff, the overall effect falling somewhere between innovative and ugly. Still, you have to admire the man’s chutzpah as he goes about his apparent mission to divide and conquer. Neither clever subversion nor outright mess, ‘Ratchet’ at least makes a little more sense with each listen. In the context of its surroundings, however, it makes little sense at all.
It’s difficult to know precisely what the five-track Nextwave Sessions EP wishes to make count, particularly when you factor in the reports that the band are set for their second hiatus in four years. They’ve always had one foot in the avant-garde, striving for reinvention with each release, a gamble that proved hit and miss before Four brought Bloc Party back to necessary basics. A solid sense of identity has never been their strong suit, something this batch of recordings only serves to cement as it nonchalantly flits from one mood to another over the course of 18 minutes.
‘Ratchet’ sets a fairly hedonistic tone, only for things to immediately lock down. The pensive ‘Obscene’ plays out against mechanical rhythm and subtle textures, Okereke a world away from his previous noise posturing as he keeps it simple, prioritising delivery over revelatory insight. It’s a smart choice, allowing the song to breathe on its own terms, the sense of containment greatly benefitting the wounded sentiment. It all makes for an intriguing opening, two sides of Bloc Party on display in addition to their strengths and weaknesses. How curious, then, that the Nextwave Sessions immediately switches the focus to that ‘Sessions’ bit, ushering in a strangely repetitive run of glorified demos.
‘French Exit’ and ‘Montreal’ follow the same patterns as their predecessors to the point that they feel like watered-down clones, the former driven by a reinvigorated Okereke and a guitar line that suggests Russell Lissack dusted off his Mega Drive and gave Road Rash a whirl prior to recording. Though more in tune with Four than ‘Ratchet’, it packs considerably less punch. ‘Montreal’ grounds things once again, prompting heavy gloom and heavier eyelids. Like ‘Obscene’, it’s an exercise in restraint, minimal percussion and measured guitar playing support to an introspective vocal. Only it’s all gone cold, Kele’s musings rote and lost.
‘Children of the Future’ closes out a confused EP – and possible career? – in confusing fashion. Pleading for brighter days and nights against one of the most barren arrangements of Bloc Party’s history, Kele first teases a white flag, addressing the faithful; “If you’re reading this, then it means we’ve failed/But our hope’s not lost, it is not, it is not”. He paints an overly saccharine and oddly didactic picture, his crayons stumbling outside the lines as he implores that yes, in fact, the children are the future, that they’re the next stage, the next wave, the great hope of tomorrow. “Time is on their side”, he howls, seemingly confident that the ills of today’s society cannot last forever and all people really need is a reassuring arm around the shoulder from time to time.
Quite the leap from demanding we all get ratchet, woop woop! Is he taking the piss? It’s not entirely clear. Assuming it’s a heartfelt passing of the torch and a fond farewell to the troops, it makes the (in)conclusive cry of “Be all that you can be” all the more curious. Hiatus number two is probably the best thing for Bloc Party at this stage. They’ll be back, you’d imagine. Just make it count, yeah?
4Dave Hanratty's Score