Coming off the back of a turbulent few years as the somewhat tortured lead singer of music press darlings Bloc Party appears to have taken years off Kele Okereke. Whereas Bloc Party’s slow slide into dance led to an indefinite hiatus, with The Boxer, Okereke sounds fresh, confident and downright aggressive at times. This is in direct contrast to the perpetually temperamental navel gazer who came into the public consciousness with the jagged student classic Silent Alarm in 2005. As the almost gratuitous cover art of The Boxer would certainly suggest, Okereke has come into his own.
‘Walk Tall’ certainly sounds like a statement of intent, segueing quite brashly from its brooding, sparse verse to its off-kilter chorus (“I’m getting taller” barks Okereke, inasmuch as he could bark). The slinky ‘On The Lam’ veers into more commercial territory, with an unrecognisable vocal from Okereke himself, as well as the prerequisite faceless female vocals to back up. And by the time we get to single ‘Tenderoni’, we’re dangerously teetering on Ibiza clubland ground, ready to fist pump. It’s all very 2008 Ministry of Sound compilation, which mightn’t be the worst thing if it weren’t for Okereke’s always emotion-laden vocals and delivery.
In truth, there are many references and Bloc Party-reminiscent moments, such as ‘Unholy Thoughts’, which may well be a Silent Alarm reject for all its Gang of Four drum beats and energetic guitar licks, and ‘Everything You Wanted’ and the shyly tender ‘All The Things I Could Never Say’ are definitely somewhat indebted to A Weekend In the City’s quieter moments.
Although the upliftingly childlike ‘Rise’ and sparkling ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ make a bit of a departure, there’s no escaping the fact that the best moments on The Boxer are Bloc Party-indebted, as much as Okereke seems to have temporarily rejected his past. But the real question is whether the music direction which he has chosen for himself isn’t wholly derivative and trailing in the wake of the dance luminaries (Spank Rock producer XXXChange and Tiesto) he’s aligned himself with of late anyway. Which would obviously be ironic considering the litany of ‘thoughtful’ art rock bands Okereke’s mother act have spawned since their inception. There’s no doubt that there’s heart here, it’s just heart that leaves the lingering question as to whether it should be channelled elsewhere.