Ever since Bloc Party’s debut, Silent Alarm, first dropped in 2005, Kele Okereke’s swooning warble has been the vocal template of choice for post-punk singers. Yet in the face of his peers’ attempts to rip off that style (see Foals’s Yannis Philippakis for the most blatant example), Kele has kept his vocal identity intact. It is, perhaps, Bloc Party’s one constant, as the band has further retreated away from its original Brit-rock indie sound and into an electro-pop mishmash.
Yet Kele’s voice—anxiety-ridden, effeminate, and mostly untamed—has been at odds with the band’s increasingly canned sound for a while; the awkward, repetitive combination of uncontrollable yelps and buzzing backbeats reached an annoying peak on their third album, Intimacy. Unfortunately, the problem is compounded on The Boxer, Kele’s first solo effort. All but removing the bristling, sprinting guitar n’ drum combo (the muscular, structured yang to Kele’s free-flowing yin), the album essentially robs listeners of what made the singer and his Bloc Party companions so endearing in the first place: impeccable hard-soft dynamics.
There were times when the band avoided this mistake on Intimacy: By opting for speedy, snarling synth choices, like on the stomping “Ion Square,” the London quartet sidestepped the pitfalls of listless Europop dance trends and fell in line with more lo-fi electronic acts such as Animal Collective. Left to his own devices, however, Kele completely misplaces the sense of pained urgency. When he yearns for what could have been in “Everything You Wanted,” the regret is dragging rather than frantic and racing, and utterly insincere. The plucky, minimalist “New Rules” and the sermonic “Rise” are bare, meandering excursions that find Kele going through blasé motions of experimentalism, both lacking in voice, honesty, and direction.
By the time “Yesterday’s Gone” arrives to rescue the dull proceedings with its catchy, clicking melody, it’s too little, too late. In reality, The Boxer is Intimacy revisited: A blunted, bored, watered-down retread, and the work of an artist whose unique voice can’t flourish without dissimilar, energetic counterparts.