Frank and unabashed queer love songs are hard to come by. Too often, LGBT musicians dilute their sexuality by addressing their love songs to a ‘you’ rather than a ‘he/she’, seemingly in an effort to appeal to a mass, cis-het audience. It’s something Kele Okereke is acutely aware of. “I couldn’t think of a precedent of any out gay musicians singing a love song to one another without having to hide behind codes,” he said in an interview with The Guardian. In an effort to put this right, the former Bloc Party frontman has teamed up with Olly Alexander for ‘Grounds For Resentment’, an unapologetically gay love song.
Olly Alexander is a fitting partner. Outspoken when it comes to queer issues and currently the poster boy for LGBT pop music, here he plays the role of Okereke’s former lover, still holding a candle for a relationship that floundered and sunk long ago.
So what of the track itself? Lyrically, it’s like a poem put to music, detailing the gradual collapse of a relationship in a series of reminisces, rhetorical questions and injured confessions. “It’s not for me, I do not dare / To think that I’m the one you dress for anymore,” Okereke sighs in one of the track’s most affecting lyrics, his gentle vocals mirrored in the following verse by Alexander’s similarly doleful tone. The pair never sing in unison, remaining detached throughout, their voices kept apart by jazz flourishes. But while they may sound miles apart, there is a longing to be reunited in Okereke’s repeated question “I could tell the flame was far from gone / Am I wrong?”
There is a disparity between the lyrics and the arrangement, however, which grates throughout. Initially, ‘Grounds For Resentment’ begins with a smooth, jazzy intro, hinting at something sophisticated and sleek, before descending into a jaunty, indie-pop piano and drums combo for the verse and chorus. There’s something dreadfully outdated in the arrangement, the track sounding like an early Kate Nash demo at best and the theme tune for a CBeebies morning show at worst. The verses are punctuated by snatches of lush jazz, taunting us before the monotonous rhythm resumes, sounding like something out of a Natwest advert. On Alexander’s verse, his soulful voice is almost drowned out by the abrasive plinky-plonk of the hamfisted keys, any emotion smothered by the sloppy rhythm reminiscent of the worst kind of mid-noughties indie-pop.
‘Grounds For Resentment’ is best when it’s read rather than listened to – not ideal for a pop song. While its lyrics are thoughtful and affecting, they’re dampened by a slapdash arrangement that feels dated and lazy. It’s a pity that while the premise for ‘Grounds For Resentment’ is rather revolutionary, the reality is more than a little underwhelming.