Since their hiatus came to an end in 2014, Bloc Party has changed considerably. A major line-up change defined their return, with original members Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack being joined by newcomers Justin Harris and Louise Bartle, along a new sound to go with the new line-up. While the changes aren’t huge, they’re enough to considerably shift the personality of Hymns, their returning album, in a major way.
The obvious change to their sound is the addition of synths; rather than the straight-forward punchy rock of Four, Hymns moves between synth-driven alt rock and the occasional synth ballad, with a similar energy remaining behind the updated trappings. Its initial moments are particularly striking, with plenty of variation; the ominous vibe and chanting of Only He Can Heal Me counteracts the opening synth rock of The Love Within perfectly, and The Good News throws heavy blues influences on top to make for an even more distinct track. The album’s main slow burner Fortress also appears here, featuring minimal instrumentation and relying on synth melodies and drum machines—admittedly not the album’s strongest track, but one of the most striking.
These first five tracks do little to characterise the album, however; after Fortress, the album devolves into a more generic collection of rock tracks, playing on similar sounds and themes and lacking any attention grabbing moments. It becomes apparent here that the album lacks any real punch in its production, lacking any real bass or depth, with songs largely feeling thin and immaterial in a way that, in the most dire of circumstances—namely Living Lux, which bears a similar minimal style to Fortress—drains the songs of any personality they may have carried. At fifteen tracks in length, it quickly becomes more of a chore than it should.
While fans were surely awaiting the return of Bloc Party, Hymns isn’t exactly a return to form. Its opening five tracks overshadowed the following ten to the point that it became difficult to sit through; its initial tracks felt like they would have benefited more from being an EP rather than a part of this album. All of Hymns’ redeeming moments came long before they were required, dragging the album down to a frankly upsetting resting point.