Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Having the last naff

Picking over the critical response to Bloc Party's A Weekend in the City (listen to most of the album here), I'm struck by the number of people who've linked their disappointment with the record to its B-side and lyrics, which they dismiss together as, in the words of one online commenter, "atrocious juvenile angsty bullshit." This is partly due to a certain amount of anti-sentimental rockist snobbery (how can the Bloc really jam when they're talking about, like, their feelings?), and partly, and far more interestingly, a result of a wholesale failure to understand or even consider what Okereke is singing about. Stereogum reported last November,

Too much of the second half sounds like "I Still Remember." Totally inoffensive, dropping lyrics like "I would go with you anywhere, I should have kissed you ..." Whaaa? We knew you guys were sensitive, but c'mon! Release that track directly to the soundtrack of whatever hipster teen soap for which it was written. "I still remember," says Kele. We do, too! "I'll love you in the morning," he says on the next track, "Sunday." Guess we will, too – but this is thin fucking ice, Bloc Party.

The ostensibly trite, vanilla lyrics in question include the following:

You said "it's just like a full moon".
Blood beats faster in our veins
We left our trousers by the canal
And our fingers, they almost touched

You should have asked me for it
I would have been brave
You should have asked me for it
How could I say no?

And our love could have soared
Over playgrounds and rooftops
Every park bench screams your name
I kept your tie

Unless Ryan and Seth have started making out on The O.C. recently, I'm not exactly sure which hipster teen soap this is ready for. Do saccharine lyrics deserve a pass because they document one of the richest and most neglected subjects in pop music--unconsummated, explicit queer desire? I'm saying yes. In the past, queer pop/rock songwriters have been expected either to turn out chirpy "we're just plain folks" pride anthems or to bury everything under six feet of subtext so as not to offend the naffs.* On the B-side of Weekend, Bloc Party have done the impossible. They've produced a half-dozen painful, perfect, lust-glazed love songs that sidestep mainstream gay pieties without selling out the radical queerness that makes them so precious in the first place. It'd be a shame if people didn't listen hard enough to notice.

*Morrissey might constitute a third route. Or possibly a route to the moon. It's no wonder Okereke's returning the signal, in the chorus of "I Still Remember" but also passim.


Anonymous said...

I'm fine with making the contention that the lyrics are worthwhile, or at least interesting, but I still don't think the songs are any good. Definitely some big time dropping of the ball going on, if you ask me.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I guess it's just a matter of taste. I like the second half of the album better than the first (musically), probably because it sounds more like Silent Alarm to me, and I loved Silent Alarm.