Certain bands seem ever-tied to a certain cornerstone album. It’s the situation that leaves crowds saying, “Play your old stuff!” It’s even worse when you’re a key player for a scene or style. Silent Alarm was the album that granted Bloc Party the most staying power, and it remains their most-played on streaming services. It’s a classic album in the alternative and post-punk scenes. But as bands tend to do, Bloc Party shifted stylistically, playing with pop and dance and more to varying degrees of success.
The band has been transient for a number of years, even to the point former fans figured they had called it quits. So when the band released “Traps,” it’s an understatement to say fans were excited. This wasn’t just a new Bloc Party song—it was a return to the gritty and fast sound of Silent Alarm, perhaps with a bit more of a sarcastic bite.
Alpha Games isn’t constrained to any particular genre even with these initial similarities. But there is a common thread in the personality this time around. There’s more pain and frustration at play. There are pockets of lovestruck sentiment thrown in (to good measure), but that’s not the main angle of the record. Things are a bit more intense this time around, and the songs are structured in a way to highlight this extra edge. In addition to singing, there’s a bit of almost-spoken-word, pseudo-rapping, and layered vocal tags mixed in. All this manifests in a variety of styles, ranging from Bowie to Bastille to Muse.
“Day Drinker” is a fine example of an opening track, kicking off with great energy, some of the fastest vocals on the album, and a good mix of the melodic and harmonic foundation of Silent Alarm. It’s clear there’s a bit more bad blood at play in the lyrics, and Kele Okereke’s vocals do well to showcase each emotional nuance. Older fans will enjoy the familiarity of this track. “Traps” and “Callum is a Snake” are a few other tracks with a similar flavor for quick reference.
“Rough Justice” is a bait-and-switch track, melding an initial dark underbelly with a dance party chorus. The transition is a bit jarring on first listen, but rest assured it works. It’s proof that Bloc Party aren’t simply stuck in one era of their discography and influences.
Typically, there will be one specific track on an album that stands out to me. In this case, it’s the painful “Of Things Yet to Come”, a somber, melodic track of loss. It’s definitely an emotional highlight with a strong ending build as things pick up energy. Take a few lines of lyrics:
I’m still wedded to the idea that you
Are still there again
A symbol of relief
You were a good man
You were the best
“Sex Magik” and “By Any Means Necessary” show more of the dancey, playful side of the band. The latter is definitely a strong entry for the back half of the album, and the bassline and general vibe makes it feel very CAKE-adjacent.
You might not be expecting a song about the culture of overwork and cryptocurrency side gigs, but “In Situ” takes all these ideas and wraps them up in the trappings of classic Bloc Party, topping it off with a guitar solo and lyrics about how “you need to get your hustle on”.
“The Peace Offering” caps off the album, and it’s definitely a curveball. It’s a stripped-back track that leans heavily into the spoken-word side of things as Okereke talks about pain and forgiveness. There’s acceptance of division and life better from a distance. The final notes of the album build to a sludgy wall that dissolves to silence.
Ultimately, Alpha Games is a strong return to form for Bloc Party that doesn’t take long to connect with classic fans. The songs capture a wide array of influences and moods, but there’s a definite serious tone which helps cement a feeling of maturity – something well-earned by a band with this level of tenure. There are a few odd moments throughout, but the highlight tracks alone easily redeem the weaker moments. And the spread of these songs across the album is strategic, preventing one half from ever feeling stronger than the other. This is kind of album that takes risks, and thankfully, most of them pay off to great effect. Alpha Games takes the mindset behind Silent Alarm and adds in over a decade of life experience for a result that is lyrically-direct, vocally-apt, and musically-compelling.