Review: Bloc Party – Intimacy

Bloc Party’s fans would like you to believe that Bloc Party are infact, Radiohead. Revolutionary, progressive, political and generally brilliant. They would like you to think that Kele Okereke is a songwriter of equal vision and merit to Thom Yorke. They would like you to think that their music, their sound, is constantly evolving, much like the Oxford quintet, and that Intimacy is their Kid A.

It isn’t.

Infact the only way that Bloc Party is in anyway similar to Radiohead. Is that their front man seems to have hijacked the band’s sound in order to stamp his new musical preferences and to calm his own insecurities of being pigeonholed by former glories.

Just as Thom Yorke drove Radiohead headfirst into embracing Dance, Jazz, World, Avant Garde and Electronica influences in their post Ok Computer period, as far away from Creep as possible. Okereke seems determined to captain Bloc Party out of the ‘Indie’ genre, a genre that has become increasingly bloated and derivative, something, you feel, that Kele would like to distance himself from, despite the band’s mastery of the genre on Silent Alarm, an album that will almost definitely be chosen as one of the classic albums of the early 21st century Indie scene.

So the band sell their guitars and buy synthesizers and drum machines, just because they can. Even though they, arguably, have one of the best drummers in rock, that doesn’t matter, because they can programme beats rather than play them. It’s all part of the plan.

As misguided as this thought process is, I do admire a band that changes it sound, that can progress and move through genres with ease. But it has to be done well, and in essence what Intimacy is, is a bunch of half baked and ill informed ideas that never translate into fully formed songs. If this is Bloc Party’s Kid A, it’s its under performing younger brother, full of potential and good intentions but ultimately lacking in a drive, ambition, desire and just plain love from its parents. It’s Kid B.

Moving beyond the lazy Kid A comparisons, because, to be honest, this album sounds nothing like anything Radiohead have ever done, despite the propaganda concocted by the more rabid elements of the Bloc Party fan base. It is ironic that Intimacy’s finest moments come from the songs and bits that are unashamedly of Bloc Party’s past. The all guitars blazing opening to Ares, which features Russell Lissack’s guitar whining like a demented air raid siren, is deniably awesome and inspires much excitement over the contents of the album. Unfortunately it doesn’t even take till the end of the song for the wheels to begin to fall off, a mid song change of pace and style throws us headfirst back into the clunky romanticism and sixth form poetry of A Weekend In The City and away from the angular, precise guitar riffs and relentless drums that made Silent Alarm a near classic.

In all fairness Okereke’s trite poetry isn’t as evident or as crippling as it was on AWITC, but this isn’t due to any great improvement in his prose. It just doesn’t stand out as the weakest link now that the music has too taken such a noticeable dive south.

The music of Bloc Party, as well as the lyrics, are now also clumsy, bloated and imprecise. Halo, one of the rockier numbers sees the band throwing walls of shimmering guitars in the mix rather than the usual twitchy, angular guitars and it is largely unsuccessful. Not in the least because of the crippling production which somewhat squashes the big sound envisaged by the band, presumably as a consequence of the hushed recording of the album.

Attempts at ‘Electronica’ sound like early demos or just merely off the cusp ideas, not actually moving that far away from the gooey love ballads that the band have taken a liking to, except with some seemingly tacked on handclaps that sound like they’ve been added in fruity loops. It all sounds different, but not in a new album sort of way. The seeds of a great dance/electro-rock album are here, but they’re hugely undeveloped and scattershot left as they are.

All this leaves Intimacy sounding like an overlong EP that dabbles with ideas that were too messy for a higher profile release. Which perhaps explains the surprise announcement of the albums release three days prior to its launch.

As mentioned earlier, for an album that is clearly trying to push things forward, it is the rockier songs that hold their own the best. The buzzing guitar riff of Trojan Horse, the maddening repetition of One Month Off and the after mentioned opening of Ares all stand out as songs that at least hold their own, nothing that would really fit in terms of quality on Silent Alarm, but a step above bare competence at least. The only song that confidently manages to balance a fresh sound and strong song writing is Ion Square, which proves that Bloc Party can be grand and heartfelt without layering their guitars to the nth degree or throwing trumpets and programmed beats in the mix for laughs. But then even this calming closer isn’t that far a departure from their previous work barring the electric piano and the absence of one of Lissack’s increasingly dull arpeggios winding through it.

All this leaves Bloc Party with a 3rd album that unfortunately continues the downward trend in their output. From here, Bloc Party can either go back to their guitar lead basics, or really concentrate on making the apparent electronica influences really work.


5/10

Bloc Party – Intimacy is available on CD on the 28th of October. A digital download is available from http://www.blocparty.com/preorder/

MP3: Bloc Party – The Marshals Are Dead

MP3: Bloc Party – Plans (Replanned By Mogwai)

[Audio http://jorichards77.googlepages.com/01Ares.mp3%5D

MP3: Bloc Party – Ares

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12 responses to “Review: Bloc Party – Intimacy

  1. I don’t think Bloc Party are trying to do anything new… I’m listening to Ares right now and it reminds me of MIA for some reason. I think the heavy drumming stuff is rather cool. Although The Marshals is one of my favourite songs

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  3. You’ve got this review all wrong. You judge them on their direction rather than their actual music, which is brilliant and revolutionary. You can’t accuse Bloc Party of failing to make the grade in ‘Electronica’ because they aren’t trying to make it. They are in their own genre. Saying that they are trying to become an electronica band is just lazy journalism.

    They are somewhere inbetween electronica, indie, punk and a variety of other genres but because they have a more electric feel to their music than before, you automatically say that they are failed electronica.

    You’ve made assumptions on what they are trying to achieve from this album and those assumptions are way, way off.

  4. And it is just because of that eclecticism and melding of various genres, of which electronica and dance has begun to hold greater sway over their former Indie and punk stylings, that the album sounds like a mess of half baked and under developed ideas.

    Talking about their failure to adapt to their shift in sound is completely relevant. Because it’s not a very successful move as the album is pretty average.

    You can’t seriously be calling their music on this album “brilliant” let alone “revolutionary” which is just ludicrous.

  5. i have to say, i didnt feel emotionally attached like i do with other albums i really love (like i felt with silent alarm). i didnt sit there going ‘This is amazing’ over and over like i usually do with albums that i really love.

    i found myself having it on as background noise and not that loud which it hurts so much to admit right now.
    i’m a big fan, i’m obsessed with kele and everything and it nearly draws me to tears when i have to say… with a heavy heart….

    THIS IS AN AVERAGE ALBUM :-(

    but i dont care! i just love the fact that its new bloc, and i will always love the bloc. yay!

  6. i love where they are going with their music,
    {the guitar effects, the lyrics}
    their originality is unmatched by any other band

  7. mate what is with this age of journalism were its only a good fucking piece if you slag off a well talented and appreciated band?
    bloc party sound like themselves an noone else so you spent half the review comparing them to radiohead wtf?
    but then again you might not make it to NME without all that cynacism so i guess we can expect more of the same.

  8. Thanks for the considered constructive feedback! I spent the whole of the introduction talking comparing Bloc Party to a band who successfully managed to do the whole ‘abandoning our guitars for synthesizers’ thing. The actual criticism of the album has no Radiohead comparisons.

    I love the crippling irony in your post. I’ve made considerably more positive posts about other bands but you have chosen this post because I give a mediocre score to a band who YOU think deserves better. Excellent, people on the internet in ‘difference of opinion’ shocker!

    And to top it off, you hold up the NME as the pinnacle of Music Journalism which explains your apparent desire for this review to be all about servile fawning of ‘talented and appreciated’ bands.

    all about the ‘cynacism’ Indeed.

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  10. I think that the comparisons to Radiohead that you have referred to, whether they be the machinations of the fanbase or Bloc Party’s naysayers; are unfounded. I would consider myself among the most devout of all Bloc Party fans, yet I have never heard anyone anywhere call Bloc Party the new Radiohead, or even mention that they are remotely similar.

    Furthermore, the mindset that Radiohead are the pinnacle of musical experimentation and overall quality; a pipedream if you will for “lesser” artists to aspire to, is ridiculous. It’s almost getting to that point where it’s now actually amusing rather than infuriating to hear yet another ignorant scenester (not necessarily yourself) remark that Radiohead are the greatest band of all time and always will be. Hell, Pitchfork Media basically begin every album review with a paragraph that outlines the ways in which the band in question is less relevant than Radiohead to our life and times.

    It seems like a band can’t branch out at all these days without being accused of copying Thom Yorke, bit of a shame really.

    I quite like Radiohead to be honest, they have some really great songs and there’s no doubting their influence on modern music, but they are generally a very heavy and laborious listening experience, not suitable for every mood and not as all encompassing as some may claim.

    I personally feel Bloc Party on the other hand, have that versatility that transcends both personal taste and current mindset, they have a song for every person and every mood. I challenge you to find a person who doesn’t like at least one Bloc Party song, I’ve been trying to disprove this theory myself to no avail.

    Your point about Okereke’s disdain for being locked into a single sonic landscape is quite true, but I don’t believe this is a vice at all, only when you push yourself away from stagnation can you improve as an artist, a person, anything. Some may say that Bloc Party’s bravado has led to some lackluster and uninspiring experimentations, but when you compare their efforts to many other bands who have tried the very same and failed far more convincingly, it can be taken as an indication of how solid they really are.

    I’ve always said that many bands would likely kill to have a single as good as any of the less effective Bloc Party songs you can think of.

    As for Intimacy itself, I think it’s very impressive overall. Far better than A Weekend In The City, with, as you mentioned, less aloof melodrama in the lyrics. I agree, I do miss Tong’s drumming taking almost a center stage like it did in the Silent Alarm era, and yes, I would love another angular and raw masterpiece like their debut, but is its intangibility really grounds to shoot down that which strays from what has been established as their finest effort?

    Ask yourself this, if Intimacy was the first Bloc Party album you ever heard; would your review be any different?

    • Hey Alex, great comment, sorry for my much belated reply…

      I think you’re completely right about the mindset of Radiohead being the pinaccle of music is extremely damaging, and this comes from the most devout of all Radiohead fans!

      As you would claim Bloc Party have a song for every mood, I would similarlly claim that so do Radiohead, but I guess that’s just evidence – or is it the reason? – of how much we like those respective bands.

      On your critique of my review…possibly with this being their third album – and, for me, the establishment of a clear slump in form since their stunning debut – I was a little harsher with my treatment of it. My review of this as a debut album would have possibly been a bit more hopeful, this could have been a scrappy, semi-formed debut that showed promise. Instead, it just feels like a band wandering further down a path that is not working for them. I’m not saying they should stay solely in the angular guitar riff territory of rock music, I think a recent Pitchfork review of the remix album pointed out that whatever you think of their digressions into electro and dance, it is at least a sign that they’re not happy to sound like bloc party when almost every band is trying to sound like bloc party. Perhaps in 10 years time when we’re looking back on the whole reemergence of post-punk/Indie/Garage Rock in the 00s Bloc Party will be looked upon more favourably than other (in my opinion) one album wonders like Franz Ferdinand, who also had an excellent debut, but then derivatively plundered that sound until people forgot about them. But such grandiose historical considerations aside, this attempt at dumping their guitars for synthesizers is not working out and Intimacy is not a very good album.

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