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.
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.
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 – Ares