Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit


Bloc Party – Intimacy
02 September 2008, 08:30 Written by Andy Johnson
I saw Bloc Party live at the O2 Arena in February. It wasn't really their gig - in fact I'd mostly gone to see Manic Street Preachers, who had won NME's Godlike Geniuses award and were being supported by Kele Okereke's men, among others. Despite their third billing at the gig, Bloc Party rose to the occasion and put on a superb performance which helped really kick things off after a disappointing earlier performance by The Cribs. They seemed like a band on top of their game - they had all their best songs from both Silent Alarm and A Weekend In The City in their arsenal, and even the slightly odd one-off single "Flux" sounded awesome in live form. The future seemed to belong to them.What was odd about "Flux" upon its release in November 2007 was that it was far more electronic than anything the band had previously released. Guitars were abandoned in favour of layered synths, in what was at the time quite a controversial decision among fans. Just as A Weekend In The City and "Flux" did before it, Intimacy continues the band's progression from a spiky guitar-driven sound to a more synthetic, dance-influenced one - the question was always going to be, especially given the album's very sudden and unexpected release, will the songs withstand this large (if not unexpected) change of direction and remain of a high standard?On both of their previous albums, Bloc Party made an effort to have an explosive opening track, and Intimacy is no exception. Ares" is named after the Greek god of bloodlust; unfortunately, "Ares" is also completely all over the shop, with Okereke going on in an uncharacteristically inane way about "war, war, war, war!" Hmm. There's weird, aimless electronic fuzz behind totally OTT drums for no discernible reason, and all this is incongruously bolted to a oddly lo-fi section. It's a baffling and disappointing start to the album, lacking the cohesion and thrill of "Like Eating Glass" or "Song For Clay (Disappear Here)"."Mercury" is worth mentioning both because it was the album's first single and because it showcases a lot of the hallmarks of Bloc Party's new sound. Okereke's vocals are more cut up than a William S. Burroughs novel, and mostly consist of the song's title said over and over again - this repetition represents a poor and substitute for real depth, and appears elsewhere on the album. "Mercury"'s drums are, again, so constant and insistent as to be almost redundant, and the guitars are absent, replaced by unimaginative throbbing synths. Thankfully the loud, expertly wielded guitars we expect of Bloc Party do appear on the album, and yet those guitars are far less interesting than ever before - aimless and ordinary, they don't save the songs which they are allowed to dominate. "Halo" is a classic lust song - "the spark of desire at every point out bodies meet". It's much closer in style to moments on A Weekend In The City than much of this album, but lacks the pace and fury of tracks from said album like the venomous "Uniform". "Trojan Horse" also fits into that category, a song about a relationship rapidly turning sour which is damaged by a curious and daft decision to drown out the vocals at the point of a crucial hook. Some of the album's best lyrics appear here though, such as when Kele harks back to when "our earthquake, it was just cracks" and finds himself "forever trying to find you on the lips of someone else."Worryingly and surprisingly though, Intimacy is full of lyrical clangers, mostly consisting of a stark, clanging lack of subtlety. Mentioning cancer and seeming talking to a suffering person in "Biko", Kele repeatedly tells them to "toughen up" - great bedside manner there...The move away from the band's core instruments has not quite proven a catastrophe - in fact the resolutely guitar-and-drumless "Signs" is a quiet, jingling highlight of the album - but it hasn't helped. What has really damaged Intimacy is a lack of quality control. It's a curious release - only ten tracks long, and about seven minutes shorter than any other Bloc Party album, you'd think this would be taut and tight album, but it simply isn't - it doesn't flow logically, crudely putting dead quiet and frankly dull tracks like "Biko" next to loud but half-baked ones like "Trojan Horse." Bearing this in mind, the suddenness of Intimacy's release is beginning to feel less like a pleasant, exciting surprise and more like a cynical, sinister move to slip a sub-par album under the radar - after all, this album has arrived significantly earlier than anyone would really reasonably have suspected.More crushingly ordinary than out-and-out bad, Intimacy is a surprisingly disappointing effort from a band who seemed to know no direction but up. On this album, Bloc Party fail to exude the cool and excitement they did on stage at the O2 Arena. That perhaps isn't surprising - but what is surprising is how little an impression Intimacy makes on you. Coming from such a talented band, this album is a bafflingly bungled effort which never even glimpses the creative heights we know the band are capable of and points to a troubled future for Bloc Party - once the gloss of newness on this album fades, fans are likely to be turning to past glories more frequently than this new material. 49%Bloc Party on MySpace
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