Kele Okereke wants more discussion, fewer blanket statements. That means more room for choice, fewer platforms for high-and-mighty artists pushing arbitrary social and political agendas. “I think it’s the job of good art to draw people’s attention to certain situations without forcing opinions down their throats,” he says. The charismatic Bloc Party frontman pauses, adjusting a cell phone ill-suited for discussions from France. The connection crackles, his voice strains and the belief in his band as something more than one continuous slogan trips on another bad connection.
Which isn’t to say Bloc Party has any trouble connecting with listeners. After only two years together, the British rock quartet took control of popular music and blessed it with post-punk revival. Often hailed as the next Franz Ferdinand, the group reflects Gang of Four, Radiohead, the Cure and even Kate Bush. Their debut, Silent Alarm, is a collection of guaranteed hit singles, each varied in scope and sound. There are songs spurring assumptions of Bloc Party as the sort of political band Okereke denounces—tracks like “Price of Gasoline,” and “Helicopter,” ranting against George W. Bush and his misguided war. There are romantic numbers, “Blue Light,” “This Modern Love,” and “Plans,” edging on new wave with synthesizer bells buffering sentimental lyrics—“Do you want to come over, and kill some time? Throw your arms around me.”
Then there are songs driven by social frustration, calling out sloth, complacency and mediocrity. On “Positive Tension,” Okereke expresses disenchantment with shows like American Idol—a bastion of superficial idolatry: “He said, ‘You’re just as boring as everyone else, when you tut and you moan and you squeal and you squelch … the fear and the yearning, it’s gonna eat you alive.” Okereke thinks televised karaoke competitions are a sign of the times. “People just don’t have a story to tell anymore. People think they can buy a different story for themselves,” he says, adding that kids queuing up for 15-minute spotlights see fame as the end goal rather than a symptom of artistic achievement. “These shows are just a way of cheating actual creative desires.”
Not a group to skirt innovation, Bloc Party makes a point of squeezing recording sessions into their touring schedule. One day they wow Marseille Le Moulin live onstage, the next they hole up in-studio to write and perform songs for a “bitter, better” album. While Silent Alarm’s success helped Bloc Party secure such honors as a coveted slot at this year’s Coachella Music Festival, Okereke is certain the group can improve upon their first offerings. “I spent the past year having to explain myself about what I was thinking when I wrote [Silent Alarm] when, truth be told, there was never any rigid thought process behind it,” he says. “I’m very proud of the words and proud of spontaneity, but I think I’ve progressed.”
Okekere notes that their debut was meant to be arresting, grabbing people and shaking things up. There was a sense of urgent, frantic energy. The next effort will be warmer—more open, he says, adding that there will be more space for choice and discussion. Until then, Bloc Party will continue to rock before sold-out crowds hip to every lyric and intonation spewing from a group of 20-something men with a take-it-or-leave-it mission. The only thing they ask is for America to stock up on healthy, fast-food fare. “There’s nowhere to buy fruit!” he says. “There’s only dried beef—and that kind of sucks.” BLOC PARTYIn the Venue579 W. 200 SouthWednesday, May 257 p.m.800-888-8499