Album number two might've been the perfect time for Bloc Party to buff its sinewy, tense dance-rock into something even more overtly palatable than 2005's excellent Silent Alarm. And on the surface, A Weekend In The City smells a bit like a shot at a wider audience. It's less frantic, less reliant on Kele Okereke's bark, and more layered and lush than its predecessor, so it mostly seems to go down easy. Get involved a little more intimately, though, and the album reveals an insidiously dark power: It's smart, strange, just different enough from its predecessor, and, eventually, absolutely stunning.
Okereke, whose admonitions were once vague, proves blazingly skilled when he gets specific: Silent Alarm could be excused and enjoyed as a party-starter, but Weekend steels itself for deeper stuff, and the lyrics—about love, sex, death, fame, conformity, the rigors of modern city living, racism, and other topics easy to render badly—nearly always hit home. Coupled with a newfound sense of musical adventurousness (aided by producer Garret "Jacknife" Lee, who's worked with U2, Snow Patrol, and Björk), his dour, thoughtful phrases ring remarkably true.
The album-opener, "Song For Clay (Disappear Here)," serves as a statement of purpose, both musically and lyrically, matching roomy, bombastic production with nods to Bret Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero. It also sets a thematic tone of Radiohead-like unease that carries through to "Hunting For Witches" (a sinister thumper about the media and Islamophobia), "Uniform" (a pretty mini-epic that begins and ends with "There was a sense of disappointment as we left the mall / All the young people looked the same"), and "Where Is Home?", which tackles racism with a potent combination of sadness, resignation, and anger. It all sounds desperately over-serious, and it is, but Weekend isn't joyless or difficult: The synth-hummer "On" offers blessed relief, and "The Prayer" bursts with martial energy that feels like an unshackled nod to TV On The Radio. "SRXT"—named for Seroxat, a.k.a. Paxil—sums up Weekend's disparate sides perfectly: It's a wandering suicide note that builds to a sunny orchestral climax, and manages to honor both the depths and heights equally.