Thursday, 28 August 2008

ALBUM: Bloc Party - Intimacy (Wichita Records)

I think I’m probably not the only one who was thrown off guard first by Bloc Party’s single ‘Mercury’ and the apparent change in style to “dark electronica” and stupidly placed horns, then by the sudden release of the album two days after the name was confirmed. A few listens to ‘Intimacy’ and you’ll realize why they did it – because they sound really bored.

Opener ‘Ares’ seems to confirm Kele’s promise that the album would retain the visceral nature of ‘Silent Alarm’ – a war chant as opening gambit. It still marks a definite shift in sound without a guitar in sight and sounding almost like the Prodigy on the chorus but isn’t all that bad, managing to pull of a bit of intensity and some clever soliloquy lyrics.

However, after ‘Halo,’ the singular spiky guitar track that recalls the good old days of ‘Silent Alarm’ most of the album’s earlier energy disappears with exception of the fast-paced dance of ‘One Month Off’ and the last minute of ‘Better Than Heaven.’ If it wasn’t for the heavy production creating a little atmosphere on some pretty plaintive, almost self-indulgent break-up tracks, falling asleep would be inevitable.

For me the problem isn’t just that the album is full of slow-paced tracks that never build up to anything because Bloc Party have done a few tracks like that before that didn’t inspire apathy – it’s more that the so-called experimentalism isn’t well-placed – instead of original but not to difficult songs like they used to, pedestrian chord progressions and pretty uninspired cuts are getting jazzed up with random blasts of horns/strings/noises under the mistaken belief that it can make them exciting. This is definitely the case with the surprisingly hollow ‘Ion Square.’ With other tracks like ‘Mercury’ my issue is with the lack of bass on the verses. On opener ‘Ares’ the vocals were good enough to hold their own and actually give a little effect when it was just them and the drums, and same goes for ‘Positive Tension,’ one of my favourites from Silent Alarm, but on other tracks where there isn’t such a clear purpose it just makes the songs hard to get into. Add in the occasional lyrical howlers like on ‘Signs’ – ‘at your funeral I was so sad, so sad’ and ‘I held your heart in me’ on ‘Ion Square’ and ‘Intimacy’ starts looking like a rushed album that sought to hide its flaws under good production

The evolution of a band will always stir some upsets and it could just be how much I liked the old Bloc Party that makes ‘Intimacy’ unappealing, but at the same time the touches of experimental electronica have somehow succeeded at making songs boring and difficult. Maybe they’ll be good at their new sound by album four but the fact that the best track on the album sounds the most like their debut speaks for itself.

Standout Track: Halo

Ollie Khakwani