Okereke leans hard into a persona that drives a “matte-black ’Rari,” lives at the club, and suffers no fools. Opener “Day Drinker” introduces us to an alcoholic who greets his brother’s intervention attempt by telling him he has a “conniving tongue” and that “God hates the faint of heart, the weak-willed, and the profligate.” The rest of the album is dominated by a similarly caustic tone, ranging from bratty (“You can’t hang with us”) to brutal (“I will die die die and be born again/Before I fuck with you again”), and usually directed at unnamed hangers-on. “The things you do for blow or a little guest list/Have consequences,” he coos on “Rough Justice,” the first of two occasions when he calls out parasitic +1 seekers. Most biting is “Callum Is a Snake,” in which Okereke “officially” washes his hands of someone whose “eyes are too close together,” telling him, “I thought you came from better stock.”
The bulk of the album’s aforementioned stunningly pretty ballads reveal themselves to be crueler than they initially sound, but on “Of Things Yet to Come,” Okereke steps back and offers a more perceptive view of this proudly messy lifestyle. Here, those friends are “lost,” rather than tossed off, as the narrator casts blame on himself and wonders, “Am I best left in the past?” Regardless of the album’s relationship to truth and fiction, “Of Things Yet to Come” is the only time it offers anything beyond one-dimensional characters. It doesn’t hurt that the song concludes with Lissack launching into his finest tapestry of lush, Edge-like guitar textures in a career filled with them.
The few things that work on Alpha Games have little to do with their similarity to, or departure from, Bloc Party’s most celebrated work. This is by far the band’s most successful attempt at marrying post-punk with actual dance grooves: Bartle manages to channel Matt Tong-style intensity while playing minimalist patterns more akin to the programmed beats that eventually overtook the group’s former drummer. Okereke and Lissack’s best performances might recall certain aspects of the ones from their mid-twenties, though with the added perspective and experience evident on “Of Things Yet to Come.” The album’s best hooks feature Bartle duetting with Okereke, a new trick in Bloc Party’s repertoire. These strengths are even more frustrating because they reveal an alternative path to the binary rut in which this band has been stuck for 10 years. If Bloc Party continue to build on the unique strengths of their new members, and if Okereke takes his songwriting as seriously as he did on his last solo release, there’s still a glimmer of hope for the band that was once seen as the most promising member of a flash-in-the-pan scene.
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