NME, the Meaning of Relevance, and Bloc Party’s ‘Four’

Who grants the powers of relevance-determinance?  Because it seems like at some point or another, a large music publication or other (e.g. NME, Rolling Stone, Spin) absorbs these powers as if they had some mystical brush-in with the Giver.  And abuse that power they do.

In a review for the latest Bloc Party album, the assigned voice of NME had nothing positive to say (or else it was cloaked in that sort of highly culturally-contextual detachment that never approaches the music as the sounds it is comprised of).  The conversation (or rather soliloquy) was mostly on how “relevant” Bloc Party is anymore (having only three previous studio albums to speak of, mind you) and moreover, the relevance of post-punk revival.

The general tone was that post-punk is dead, so why are they trying to make music anymore (as if this reviewer were in charge of the autopsy).  But the utter unquestionable authority with which these claims were made was mind-blowing.

The reviewer makes audaciously presumptuous claims like:

“For starters, smoky delta blues has no place in the Bloc Party vocabulary (‘Coliseum’). Neither does Dinosaur Jr alt-rock (‘Kettling’) or hardcore punk (‘We’re Not Good People’).”


“There’s a sense with comeback album, ‘Four’, that Kele and co are returning to an empty stadium. That they’re not relevant any more. ”


“Where’s the artistic single-mindedness? Where’s the restraint, the daggers, the punch? Perhaps the lack of subtlety is an attempt to make up for ‘Intimacy’’s failed avant-bleepery. ”

Note the reviewer’s taking upon himself to decide one-and-all that the entirety of their previous album was a ‘failure.’  Who says?  Was there a poll that every single fan of Bloc Party somehow neglected to show up to.

This album review is proof that reviewers have no business reviewing albums they don’t care about in the first place.  Throw any rap album my way, you’ll get the same results, but wouldn’t you rather hear the perspective of someone who has something good to say about an album, who can speak to the work as an appreciator of the artist as a whole, not as someone who feels the need to document the manic-depressant—not to mention superficial–swings of up-to-the-minute social standing?

The truth is bands have fans, critics do not.  Nobody (and not a million people) are going to pay 40 bucks for a ticket to hear what one guy who listened to an album thinks.

The truth is, yes Bloc Party did something they don’t have a tendency to do.  They included some far-fetched things like the blues and metal on an album that otherwise maintains their certain ability to write beautiful, earnest melodies.  They left out the electronica pretentions and made something raw and completely unrefined:  they got vulnerable. And maybe they wanted to have some fun and just play some heavy, drop-d-centric riffage, knowing full well they’d include songs like the Police-meets-Sigur Ros “Day Four” with its soaring, hair-raising affectiveness, and clean, upbeat,  multi-textured guitar grooves and layered vocal hooks in songs like “V.A.L.I.S.” and “Truth.”

It’s a sad way to look at all music in some grand context as if every course of action a band takes were in fact some kind of self-referential commentary.  To keep thinking of a band in terms of albums they already made and aren’t re-making is to miss the point completely.  It’s either ‘like the band’ or ‘don’t’.  Or just living under the delusion that a band is only defined by the very first thing they do.

Notice the reviewer’s name doesn’t appear in this review, as ill-fame should not be perpetuated—just like we shouldn’t know the first and last name of the Aurora Batman-shooter (or have to see that name every time you type Batman into Google).  And there lies the problem with mass media: nothing is sacred in a business that appeals  to now-ness at all costs and regardless of the casualties.


2 responses to “NME, the Meaning of Relevance, and Bloc Party’s ‘Four’

  1. Agree with your sentiments completely. I’m a huge Bloc Party fan (they’re my favourite artist of all time), and I love their experimentations from album to album. Yes, there is a historical context to a new album’s release, but don’t spend half the bloody review talking about it. Describe what’s there, with a few references to similar-sounding songs so as to paint an aural picture for the reader.

    • Exactly! When a music magazine no longer focuses on the music, then it no longer becomes a music magazine. It becomes a gossip tabloid. I was personally offended by such shameless Bloc Party bashing as well, but nothing gets me more heated then words like “current” or “relevant” as criticisms for the band/album/music in question. Good music exists in spite of fleeting trends and what “everybody else” is listening to. When did that ever not become the case? Instead, good taste is lost in an appeal for sensationalism. Thankfully there are some alternatives to NME and Rolling Stone, that write earnestly and uncynically about the music they actually care about, but they carry not nearly the cultural pervasiveness they should.

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