Kele KeleThe Boxer
Caressing John Lydon’s face backstage in the Summercase 2008 festival, setting aside the band that has covered him with laurels, buying a house, signing up to learn kick-boxing and getting buff, coming out of the closet, and redirecting his composing ability towards the dance floor. That’s what Kele Okereke has been doing these last two years. Looking at it this way, it’s no surprise that he has called his solo debut “The Boxer”. For a guy whose vocal strength never managed to eclipse the depth of his feelings, and who has always shown considerable shyness, facing a change of lifestyle like this must have been a real challenge. Without knowing how hard each round has been for him, it’s easy to intuit that his solo debut is the umpteenth battle, the professional one. And for a person who has always made a point of demonstrating that he lives by and for music, this round is especially important. The ex-vocalist of Bloc Party has managed to get his debut LP to sound, among many other things (good and bad), like he wants to do things right, to feel comfortable with himself. Sincere.
Nevertheless, it’s really hard to erase “Helicopter” or “Banquet” from your mind when you hear Okereke’s voice. It would only be possible to avoid comparisons if “The Boxer” contained a song that managed to fly higher than some of the hits that have taken Bloc Party to the top. In fact, in my own case I don’t even find songs from the band from Liverpool that have flown higher than those of “Silent Alarm”, one of the best debuts of the last decade. Led by Kele, the group redirected its sound towards electronic music, gradually, confidently. This is without forgetting what had been the debut’s best ally: the surprise factor. Okereke could have taken note of this lesson. His solo debut could have offered him the opportunity to take advantage of the surprise factor once again; however, “The Boxer” sounds like a transition between “Intimacy” and making friends with Tiësto. I ask myself: aren’t there enough producers in the world, Kele? Does a guy like you, who’s been in the business for awhile, really think of electronic music and look at DJ Mag ’s list of the best DJ’s in the world? Obviously, “The Boxer” isn’t an album of pounding progressive music, but it has the kind of details that smack of the need to top commercial radio charts and become Primark piped music. “ Tenderoni”, the first single, exemplifies this to perfection. But “ All the Things I Could Never Say”, which is an infinite rush of tech-house in which there is hardly a drum, reaffirms this theory. “ On the Lam” , bathed in David Guetta and Calvin Harris-type synthesisers, Okereke even loses his voice, which comes out as a little thread somewhere between “I want to look sexy” and “I want to look tender.”
Here ends the flood of hackneyed techno and the rest of the album is closer to the concept of electronic pop, bringing together Kele’s digital production, and composing ability, a skill that he hasn’t left behind in his artistic rebirth. “ Walk Tall”, “ The Other Side” or “ Everything You Wanted” exploit these two facets, especially in the originality of the looped basses, which don’t need much else added to them if they are accompanied by Okereke’s voice in all of its splendour, strength, and charisma. The album’s ballad is called “The New Rules” and it is high class within the album as a whole. It is the proof that Kele Okereke doesn’t need to bring electronic music and the dance floor together if he really wants to keep making good music. These are perhaps the songs furthest from his past, and the most original, as you can always find a flaw in the rest of the pieces here. It wasn’t all going to be glory, of course. Kele has tested the waters, and now perhaps he knows where his creative intentions can or should go. We won’t even mention going back to Bloc Party, right?
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