I pronounced Hymns dead on arrival soon after the release of "The Good News." If that track was considered a single, what hope did the record have? And don't get me wrong—while I may have called the time of death a little early, Hymns is not a good album, not by any stretch of the imagination.
If, like me, you haven't been able to shake Bloc Party's hold on your life (Silent Alarm forever, yo!), and you want to do as little damage to yourself as possible while listening to Hymns, skip over "The Love Within" (that weird 'nu-disco' quirkiness wears off fast, trust me), "The Good News," and "Into the Earth." This will spare you the brunt of the pain. Sadly, this still does not a good record make.
There are fleeting moments on Hymns when Bloc Party still feel as poignant and important as they did back when dance floors were awash with "Helicopter" and Phones' remix of "Banquet." One of those moments is "Only He Can Heal Me." Built around chanting voices and lockstep drums, the song provides Kele with an ample aural landscape to show off his strengths as a vocalist and lyricist. A tragic (perhaps transcendent) love story built on a religious scaffolding ("And let me wait until my savior comes home, for only he can save me"), the track's only serious flaw is its restraint. Russell's guitar waits patiently in the wings for much of the song, and definitely adds to the composition when it finally arrives, but as with the entirety of Hymns, there is a remote, distant quality to even the strongest tracks, especially noticeable in a band who built their reputation on the releases that often derived much of their energy from being that one step too close to the edge.
While there is something narcotic about the better segments of Hymns, the lingering grey of January ensures these songs aren't ineffective. "Fortress" offers a failing echo of the love we felt as adolescents: "Pull me under, under the ocean / Cover my mouth, with yours." "Different Drugs" takes that same love and warps it, forcing it through a glass darkly: "I'm trying to broach the distance that's growing in our lives / From the night until the morning, like we're on different drugs / Did I say too much? Did I take too much?" If there's something to champion on this album, it's Kele's confidently unconfident lyrics, the strength with which he delivers, "Do you still think of me fondly? Do you still think of me?" or the desperate, whispered wit of a line like, "Reach down and feel how strong my love grows, just for you."
There is a solid EP to be made from parts of Hymns. Granted, one that is better suited to watching the fog descend upon a city than to celebrate it's existence, the life it contains within. When the album succeeds, it thrives in twilight and obscurity, in those drunken, shambling moments where we find beauty in the gauzy streetlights lining the way home to empty beds. We've all been there, and there is comfort to be found in those moments. If only Bloc Party had found a way to better explore those muted, liminal moments within Hymns, perhaps then they'd have crafted an escapist document suited for our times. Instead we're presented with two or three songs worth revisiting, and yet another wasted opportunity for a band that once shaped an entire musical landscape.