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Music Review: Bloc Party – Intimacy

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You can all blame Radiohead for this. Ever since they, admittedly fairly arbitrarily, decided to give their last album In Rainbows away for free, everyone wants to do something to shake the record industry. Take England’s Bloc Party for instance. Just over a year following their penultimate album, 2007’s A Weekend in the City they announce a new album is in the works. Excited fans rejoice… for the time being at least.

However, Bloc Party has recently become interested in making it increasingly difficult to like their band. After promising a return to form, singer Kele Okereke released the lead-in single, “Mercury” in July. What should the song sound like? A dark-wave house party… of course. Semi-alienated and confused fans worry.

With talks of the album being released before the end of the year, Bloc Party held a live video chat on Monday August 18, during which they announce the title of their third album, Intimacy and its release date, August 21. In a vein similar to Radiohead’s In Rainbows, the album is being released in two forms: digital and physical. The digital release on August 21 via their website, and the physical release – complete with extra tracks – to be released in October. Frantic fans log on with mum’s credit cards

The album itself seems very much a response to the lackluster reception of Weekend. Fans and critics alike deemed it too conceptual, accusing it of being laced with a sense of over-importance. With overlong songs drowned in sound and heavy production – compliments of Jacknife Lee – the album flowed perhaps a little too well for its own good. The lack of any noticeable standout singles made for a difficult listen.

With Intimacy, Bloc Party recalls the fun making upbeat music. That is not to say the album rehashes their debut, Silent Alarm, as it holds about as much similarity to it as it does to dance artist MIA, which is to say “only a little.” 

Intimacy begins with the curious and jarring “Ares,” a song that is about as perplexing as witnessing a rabbit turn into a werewolf and eating a pigeon. With guitars imitating a siren, Okereke sings both in English and in Guttural-nonsense. With abrasive guitars and vocals, Bloc Party seems to still be interested in alienating fans.

The album continues its peculiarity and shifts from their previous work until “Halo” hits the speakers – and does so with incredible strength. Featuring guitar work reminiscent of Silent Alarm combined with the electronica elements found in recent releases such as “Flux” and “Mercury,” Bloc Party seems to have found their niche.

It is in this vein that half of the album plays out; loud, fast, furious, and intense. Consequently it is also incredibly catchy and fun, and laced with potential singles. Songs such as “Trojan Horse” and “One Month Off” – the latter featuring the first key change from the Bloc Party – recall the band’s ability to craft intelligent and mesmerizing pop songs with a perfection that defies their young age.

However, the rest of the album is where Bloc Party truly declares its intentions. The drony and ethereal “Better Than Heaven” is a hypnotic song of obsession and possession to a lover – one who seemingly doesn’t care anymore. The track’s dark tendencies are counteracted by its inexplicable provocation to dancing. It is distant and dreamy but ends in the albums most satisfying rock-out sessions backed with enough instrumentation to make even Butch Vigg jealous.

In a similar fashion, the band continues to harness ambiance with “Signs,” that is both the literal and figurative centerpiece of the album. The song begins with, of all things from a guitar band, a glockenspiel. It is then combined with a dark trance-esque delayed bass line and drums. Complete with haunting falsetto during the bridge, the song flows better than it has any right to. The dreamlike soundscapes and rhythm give a sense of floating – or drowning, it is difficult to tell which.

In terms of its lyrical direction, the album deals very much with its title. Reportedly the byproduct of the end of Okereke’s yearlong relationship, its themes range from songs of adoration – as with the closer “Ion Square” – to songs of detest – as with “Trojan Horse.” Sadly, with Intimacy, Okereke’s lyrics are still very literal and often unimaginative. With lines such as “stuck on a dreamland, somewhere it’s better. You’ll be the one missing out” very little is left to personal interpretation. Yet, for much of the album, it is, though inexplicably, fitting for the music.

Possibly the result of the many, and often completely opposite genres the band seems inclined to take, the album is a bit jarring in its flow; its slower songs are followed by songs intended to rock your socks off, leaving you to wonder what the hell just happened to your ears. But nonetheless, the album does work as a cohesive unit, though a confusing one. It stands as both a return to form and a completely experimental album at once. Perhaps as a result, or despite it, it is difficult to entirely dislike the album.

Overall, Intimacy is certainly a more immediately accessible album than A Weekend in the City, though it does lack the flow and conceptual feeling as an album. Its weaknesses generally lie in its production, which is heavier than a ton of bricks. But what is most upsetting about the album is its overwhelming mediocrity. None of the songs are bad, per se, yet neither are any of them outright amazing, or even incredibly memorable.

With every layer of dreamy production, in every soaring guitar or synthesizer you keep waiting for it to ignite your appetite, which Intimacy just seems incapable of doing. Bloc Party seems more interested in doing ten genres passably than doing a few incredibly, which is fundamentally where the album fails.

Intimacy may prove a more commercially successful album than its predecessors for Bloc Party, but it is unlikely to be the emotionally and personally challenging album they undoubtedly think they’ve created.

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About Jon Jacobs

  • Great review. I gave this album an “F” on my blog for the very same comments you have made.