Refusing to be thrown in the ever-growing dustbin of disposable British dance-punk bands, Bloc Party has shown impressive ambition on A Weekend in the City, a concept album about life in the group’s native London. Just before the band hit the States, we spoke to drummer Matt Tong about the trials of life in the Square Mile and the fine art of avoiding the sophomore slump.
Compared to 2005’s Silent Alarm,A Weekend in the City is a headier, more philosophical outing.
Matt Tong: We realized that, once we finished making this record, that we had polarized a lot of opinions. On one hand, there are a lot of people who really appreciate what we’re doing. And there are also a lot people who think we’ve failed somehow because we haven’t made Silent Alarm Part II. It’s a big risk.
Your dark portrayal of life in London recalls Damon Albarn’s recent The Good, the Bad and the Queen album. Is there a pervading mood you’re both tapping into?
I haven’t heard that record yet, but I’ve read that myself. Damon Albarn’s a very astute lyricist. And London’s obviously a city he knows very well. And yes, our work is also a reflection of London. But it’s also about London’s twentysomethings who find their youthful ideals being challenged by the harsh facts of life. It’s very much about the erosion of idealism.
Are all the references to drug use part of that erosion?
It feels like drug use is way more prodigious now than it ever was, at least in my lifetime. It’s amazing how something like cocaine has infiltrated all levels of society, whereas in the ’80s it was seen as a really opulent drug that only yuppies could afford. Drugs fill a chasm in so many young people today that genuine experience can’t really provide for. And another central theme to this album is why some young people are seeking to indulge themselves in ways that aren’t necessarily that healthy.
As a numbing effect?
Maybe. I hear from various people in New York that after 9/11 things became way more hedonistic. Once people get this gnawing, nagging feeling that the world is winding down to some kind of dramatic conclusion, they think there’s nothing really worth living for anyway. Why not kind of get stuck in some excess along the way?
Conversely, when Americans think of excess in England, the poster boy is Pete Doherty. Do you see someone like him as part of the problem, or just a casualty of it?
I don’t think Pete’s really a casualty. I think he embodies the superficiality attached to popular culture. He wasn’t a scrub from the start. He made himself one. This notion of being a big rock star was an ideal for him, and it’s why I don’t particularly feel sorry for him at all.
The album concludes with a suicide note. That’s a dark way to end things.
I can certainly see why some people consider it fairly relentless. But it’s also meant to be playful. There are some really absurd moments on that record, especially some of the guitar solos. There are definitely parts that are influenced by Queen, for instance.
It probably doesn’t stand out so much because we mix up so many other things as well. I just mention that because I feel like we took some risks that rock bands usually don’t take. To be honest, we still haven’t really scratched the surface of that sort of experimentation as a group. But I think we definitely will.
Bloc Party plays Congress Theater Friday 23.