Kele Okereke’s third studio album Fatherland couldn’t stray farther from his band Bloc Party’s electric indie-rock and his past disco and house-clad solo excursions—it is calm and collected, mature and settled down. This new, stripped-down version of Okereke is a refreshing change from his party-god identity, and it comes as no surprise given his new role as father to daughter Savannah, born in December of last year.
Okereke’s acoustic stylings echo Joni Mitchell’s storybook folksiness, and his charming British quips and tinges of laid-back jazz conjure images of Amy Winehouse. Fatherland is comprised of the most eclectic collection of genres that Okereke has explored thus far. Orchestral arrangements flutter in and out under the piano on the heartstring-pulling “Portrait,” while the easy-listening sing-a-long “Capers” delivers jaunty ragtime vibes. Okereke’s lyrics are intrinsically pensive, with subjects covering the usual suspects of loss, heartbreak, and the estrangement of lovers.
Fatherland, for the most part, is slow-moving and virtually devoid of the fiery passion heard in Okereke’s other works. Collaborations with Years & Years singer Olly Alexander on the jazz-saturated “Grounds for Resentment” and singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae on the wistful “Versions of Us” drag the sluggish record forward. As a whole, Fatherland narrowly misses the mark on intimate minimality and instead falls short onto a sort of disappointing one-dimensional flatness.
That said, venturing far out to the other end of the musical spectrum is not an easy feat, especially for an artist as well-established in other genres as Okereke is. Fatherland is a concerted effort—it does not quite achieve the soft vulnerability that it was aiming for, but it’s still a very good try overall. “Do U Right” is only sort-of sultry, while “Streets Been Talkin’” has the potential to be a successful marriage of folky anecdotes and Latin flair but doesn’t quite make it to the altar. In his efforts to do a complete sonic 180°, Okereke pulled back a bit too much and left Fatherland with a deficit of the attitude and swagger that is abundant in the discography of Bloc Party and his past solo records The Boxer (2010) and Trick (2014).
Re-inventing yourself is no simple task, and it requires a lot of guts to even take the plunge in doing so. If anything, Fatherland is Kele Okereke at his most honest, trying on a shaky and vulnerable voice and exploring his softer acoustic side while wearing the delicate skin of new parenthood for the first time. New chapters in life are always filled with uncertainty, so the pulled-back and tentative nature of his stab at a softer sound is largely understandable. Nobody gets it right the first time, so why should Okereke?
Notable Tracks: “Grounds for Resentment” | “Portrait” | “Versions of Us”