Fatherland is that pipe and slippers moment; more folksy than homespun but nevertheless a cherished moment of reflection for the new father.
When Bloc Party burst on the scene back in 2005 with debut album Silent Alarm, we met an Okereke seemingly obsessed with himself in a way that was neither arrogant nor unjustified. Bloc Party was a breath of fresh air in the increasingly stale stable of post-millennium indie-rock, with both the band’s image and music seeming to blossom from an unfathomable cool genome. Okereke’s obsession took its cue from a need to be the best, to deliver something intangible, something that was part genius, part conceptual conceit.
Even striking out surreptitiously alone in 2010 under the wincingly pop postmark of Kele for albums The Boxer (2010) and Trick (2014), Okereke continued in this vain, delivering low-fi disco that screamed “look at me!”
His third solo album then, written and recorded after the birth of his daughter Savannah in 2016, might indeed be a kind of transformation for Okereke. It is not just the mature rebranding under his full name that lends a greater sense of weight to the proceedings but the album’s relaxed, more reflective approach to music making also demonstrates that the luminous youth of Bloc Party’s wild ride has finally found a place and confidence to shine unadorned.
With influences that seem to range from the drawling ballads of mid-career Oasis through Joni Mitchell and Elliot Smith, the pedigree is fitting for a recording artist with more than 10 years under his belt. The inclusion of a big brass band sound underplaying the scratchy guitar and vocals of Okereke on tracks such as “Streets Been Talking” and “You Keep on Whispering His Name” is a small nod to the expansive sound of Bloc Party but pared down for a much deeper, more soulful experience.
Collaborations with Olly Alexander on “Ground for Resentment” and Corinne Bailey Ray on the beautiful and clear stand out track “Versions of Us” shows that Okereke understands how to add greater texture and contrast to his shaky vocals without resorting to the autotuned experiments of his early career.
Alas, with this more simplified approach comes the tendency to meander a little in self-indulgent contemplation. The album is a little verbose in places as Okereke delights and demeans in equal measure past loves and lovers.
This self-indulgency then suggests that despite its softer, folksy approach, Fatherland isn’t the butterfly moment for Okereke it first appeared. It’s still littered with vanity albeit it bitter sweet as he lays bare the lessons of love and life for his new born daughter in “Savannah”.
There perhaps isn’t escaping who you are and moments of reflection like this only stand to reinforce the core of that. Luckily for us in Fatherland, as with all Okereke’s previous releases, whether individually or as part of Bloc Party, this core is honest music delivered with just the whisper of a narcissistic dream.