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For better or worse, Bloc Party refuse to die. The upheaval they've undergone since the turn of the decade would've seen off most bands; it remains a minor miracle that the original lineup of Kele Okereke, Russell Lissack, Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong actually managed to make 2012's Four; ever since Intimacy was met with a mixed-at-best response three years earlier, rumours had swirled that equal parts disharmony and disinterest had pushed the group to the brink. Okereke, especially, had long since sounded tellingly apathetic about the band in interviews, only ever seeming to light up when talk turned to his tepidly-received solo work. Four, as the title suggests, was an exercise in autopilot, and when Tong was replaced for the last few shows of the tour without anybody even bothering to address his departure publicly, the writing seemed on the wall.

After all, it was Bloc Party's sense of urgency that had set them apart from their contemporaries in the first place. As much as the chronology will always have them sitting alongside the other British indie success stories of the mid-noughties, Silent Alarm felt a long way away from Franz Ferdinand's languid strut or the tongue-in-cheek rabble-rousing of Kaiser Chiefs' Employment. Instead, Bloc Party's debut felt tense - sometimes even paranoid - and had an underlying thoughtfulness lacking in the records that their peers were making. Okereke came in for quite a bit of stick for the conceptual approach he took to 2007's A Weekend in the City, which tracked his disenchantment with London in sweeping fashion, but as lacking as the execution so often was, he still had a lot of the right ideas. Once those ideas dried up, the nervous energy that fuelled all of Bloc Party's best moments dissipated, and you couldn't help but feel they'd be best off put out of their misery.

Okereke was at pains to point out in an interview with The Guardian that he and Lissack, now the last men standing after Moakes followed Tong out of the exit door earlier this year, were always the key creative forces behind Bloc Party anyway; even so, you have to feel that they needed to make a real statement with this new record to justify their ongoing existence. In that respect, Hymns is a missed opportunity; it's a remarkably lightweight piece of work, far too often the one thing that Bloc Party couldn't afford to be on this album - serene. It's all too low-key; 'So Real' is superficially pretty but drifts along without making any real impression, a semi-spoken vocal on 'Into the Earth' clashes with Lissack's chirpy guitar, and the likes of 'Virtue' and 'Exes' - the former built around a grating synth loop, the latter a gentle almost-ballad - lack the fizz and crackle of old. What happened to the vitality in the guitars? Where did the rock band go

In a lot of the press surrounding Hymns, Okereke seems to have placed an unusual onus on the religious inspiration for his lyrics - presumably to try to create the illusion of a profundity to them that simply isn't there. This is his least inspired collection yet and the thing is, when he's clumsy, he's really clumsy - 'Fortress', especially, is rendered borderline unlistenable by lines that would give the 'bulbous salutation' passage in that Morrissey novel a very close run for their money. The often glacial pace of the album and consistently sparse approach to instrumentation means the lyrics are front and centre and Okereke is either rehashing old ground (most notably on what's probably the record's standout, 'Different Drugs') or making cack-handed attempts to strike for new territory: 'The Good News', especially, is anything but subtle with the faith-based imagery.

Hymns is by no stretch of the imagination as bad as it threatened to be when 'The Love Within' was unveiled as the lead single late last year; mercifully, there is nothing else on the record that you could feasibly pass off as something that Jeremy and Super Hans off of Peep Show might have come up with. What it lacks, though, is a sense of purpose, which is the precise thing this new version of Bloc Party needed it to have; they needed to make a convincing case as to why they still deserve your attention. Instead, they picked the worst possible time to lose their nerve, and turn in something so bereft of conviction and new ideas.

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