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Album review: Kele's 'The Boxer'

June 22, 2010 |  2:45 pm

Kele Almost all of Bloc Party’s best songs were about taking drugs in nightclubs. How many of your mid-aught nights peaked when the DJ threw on “Banquet,” with its come-hither coda? “The Prayer” made dropping pills and making passes at pretty things across a dance floor into a religious rite.

So it came as absolutely zero surprise when Bloc Party’s frontman, Kele Okereke, cut the fat and announced an electro-inclined solo record. “The Boxer” is a tricky little thing, rooted in the clamorous synth textures of early Detroit techno and Chicago house like Model 500 and Cajmere. But while the adventurous “Boxer” pares off Bloc Party’s ponderous streak, it leaves room for Kele’s hopeless romanticism, and the end result hits in all the right places -- head, hips and heart alike.

Credit is due to producer XXXchange for understanding Kele’s strengths and weaknesses as a singer. He leaves the sweeping choruses, but takes liberties on the tangled verses and inflections -- first single “Tenderoni” admits that Bloc Party is most fun when Kele’s peeling off falsetto wails. “On the Lam” and “Everything You Wanted” drip with both old-soul longing and an alkaline tang on their hooks. “Unholy Thoughts” takes a high-neck bass sample that New Order’s Peter Hook would sell blood for, and renders it spectral and unbearably sad.

Even slower moments such as “Rise” and “All The Things I Could Never Say” have a brevity and restlessness that make them thrilling. The spirit of “Boxer” evokes the characters from Bloc Party’s best (and very un-clubby) song “I Still Remember.” It’s about two schoolkids skipping school, raising hell and unpacking their sexuality. Kele’s grown up since then, but he has a lot of discovery left in him yet.

-- August Brown

“The Boxer”
Three stars (out of four)

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