Kele Okereke and his bandmates in Bloc Party
are truly cognizant of the times. Bloc Party addressed the realism of the internet community by venturing into territory only few commercially successful rock bands preceding them have done: they released the album as a free digital download with a pre-order of the physical album upon release. Advocates of the recording industry call this foolish, but it shows that the band are willing to accept the reality of the digital age, and I can only applaud them just as I did Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and Girl Talk before them.
The difference was that those artists released albums that generated excitement for me. I couldn’t stand Bloc Party’s 2007 release, A Weekend in the City. Not one bit. And it pained me to say, because their debut album, Silent Alarm, was one of my favorite albums for a good part of a year. Bloc Party quickly jumped into my small group of favorite bands following the very first time I listened to it. I was excited to hear this catchy, yet inspired new band from Britain, pulling all of these elements from New Wave to post-punk into their own concoction of stellar ear-candy.
But they lost all of that with the second album. I’m a fan of personal lyrics, but these were just annoyingly introspective. I could only make it through two listens of the album, and placed it in one of the back pages of my album book. They literally lost all of their ability to hook, which is unfortunate because the band is capable; “Banquet” and “This Modern Love” off of –you guessed it– Silent Alarm, is Bloc Party at their absolute best. There are no tracks on the second effort which compare, quite simply. So the only excitement I could muster up upon hearing that Bloc Party were ready to unleash their third album came from a foregone conclusion I was hoping would not come true– would they follow their regressive path to mediocrity, or would they wake up a little bit and rekindle the brilliance shown on Silent Alarm?
The end result wasn’t even disappointment.. I just simply don’t care.
The album isn’t horrible. It picks up in the second half with “Trojan Horse”, which channels some of the sounds of yesteryear. The opening of the song is engaging and Kele’s voice connects to the music quite flawlessly. But this first taste of success follows two tracks of overtly layered electronic synth and robotic vocals which, I predict, will be ineffective live – the straightforward rock anthem likely hit airwaves pretty soon, and the sandwiched, requisite slow song that’s become customary for a Bloc Party release. The first track, “Ares”, has an interesting sound, but the lyrics are simply difficult to appreciate and the song lacks any sort of consistency; there’s a falsetto bridge right in the middle which completely soaks all of the momentum and energy out of it. “Mercury” is just awful. It feels like a rip of all the 80′s synth-pop bands I’m trying to forget, and I simply do not understand how they expect to recreate the vocals live. They were way to ambitious with this track, yet still bring nothing new to the table whatsoever.
“Biko” can be beautiful at times. It really can. But if it’s intention was to be a change of pace to the album, I think it’s entirely way too deliberate. Okereke has a remarkable voice (when he’s not fucking with it), but the song lacks the ability to successfully garner interest as it’s slower comparables like “Kreuzberg” and “So Here We Are” do. And guess what– half-way through the song, here come that god-damned electronic drum-kit again! I don’t find it groovy, and I don’t find the organ or the guitar-work interesting whatsoever. It’s simply another song ruined by ambition.
The bright spots on Intimacy are when the tracks follow the line the album title draws. Peaceful, minimalist songs like the gorgeous “Signs”, which slowly progresses into an elaborately encompassing ballad, really showcase Okereke’s interesting voice and the band’s ability to change pace. The song follows “Trojan Horse” perfectly, and the talent and musicianship of the guys is on display. The rest of the album, while offering tracks that aren’t in any way forgettable, doesn’t seem appropriate for a professional band on their third record. I get the vision of boys playing on a keyboard in their high school garage band.
The plus side is that Bloc Party is pretty incredibly live, and while I have doubts for some of these songs, I think they will perform some of them brilliantly in the next year. It’s unfortunate that this album couldn’t reignite the passion I once had for them. They simply are off my radar in every way now. I don’t care what they’re going to do from now on, and it’s a damn shame. I’ll always remember Okereke’s ear-to-ear, charming smile showcasing a mouth full of perfect, white teeth. Hopefully John Lydon hasn’t punched them all out by the next time time I decide to give them a chance.