Thursday, August 21, 2008

Review: Bloc Party - Intimacy

Bloc Party is pretty much one of my favorite bands in the world. I've said that a lot of times on this blog, but now it seems like I say it more in defense than in pride. After a day spent spinning their new record Intimacy, it looks like I'm going to have to continue saying it for the former reason.

When The Raconteurs released Consolers of the Lonely, they were criticized for using their rapid release strategy to cover up a less-than-stellar album. Bloc Party's strategy of announcing an album Monday and releasing it three days later might have more to do with their second album being leaked three months before its official release than mediocre quality, but you have to wonder if more time might've given them some perspective on this record.

To a certain extent, the opening track of every official Bloc Party album can describe the quality and feeling of the entire album. Those three tracks ("Like Eating Glass" "Song For Clay(Disappear Here)" and "Ares") are world apart. Silent Alarm was a party throughout, Weekend was the aftermath of that party, and now Intimacy doesn't seem like it knows what it is. It careens through a bunch of different feelings, much more incoherent than its predecessors.

Kele Okereke has said that the album is the first to really be about personal experience, having been recorded after a breakup. To be honest, I can't really tell that's the case at all. There's nothing here that tells me it's a breakup album, or that it's more genuine in terms of emotion that past albums. Songs like "Sunday" off their last record were more compelling than "Biko" here.

I hate to say it, but Kele Okereke has really started to turn the band into his own show, and that's not at all a good thing. The strength of Matt Tong, Russell Lissak, and Gordon Moakes make up a fearsome trio that were on equal pegging with Okereke's lyrics on their first album, and managed to stay afloat over the course of the Weekend album and b-sides. Here, Okereke hogs the spotlight, and not even the fantastic drumming of Tong shines through.

Anyone that questions "Halo" as the best track on this record doesn't have any ears. It's the track that links the best through their career and seems to step forward at the same time. "Biko" holds interest for a while, "Trojan Horse" is another standout, and the album closes on a great note with "Ion Square." Even first single "Mercury" seems much better and less of a crazy one-off departure in light of the context of the rest of the album. What seems to be lost is the element that makes "This Modern Love" my favorite Bloc Party song: the ability for that dynamic shift from soft to loud, slow to fast, calm to frenetic. Bloc Party isolate themselves to one or the other on these songs, maybe dabbling in a tiny element of the other here and there. I still found a lot to like on the record, and I'm sure it will grow on me in the way A Weekend in the City did for me two years ago, but right now I'm sort of scratching my head a little bit.

Like with most bands, I get a little annoyed when people complain that they should do the same thing over and over again. These guys aren't going to produce Silent Alarm for the rest of their lives, and we'd hate them for hitting the same note too many times. That hypocrisy aside, I just don't like the stretching they've done here as much as I have before. There are little bits that impress, and "Halo" goes immediately up with their best tracks, but for a bulk of the album's 45 minute run time, I feel like Bloc Party sound a way they never have before: forgettable.

I'm going to come back to the album in a day or so and write more reactions, and I can see myself justifying a lot of the problems I have with the album right now. This just seems like how a lot of people will react to the album at first, but I'm a big enough fan of the band to see how it grows on me after a bunch of listens.


Ty said...

I have also been listening to Intimacy for the last few hours and am feeling a little let down. The album feels like it was manufactured, not created. Right off the bat, I could tell that this is not as tight and musically complex as Silent Alarm and Weekend in the City. I will continue to listen, because things seem different after time, but Silent Alarm will continue to be my favorite BP release (and This Modern Love is also my favorite BP song).

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Tom said...

I've listened to Intimacy a few times and I really like it. I even prefer it to 'Weekend...'
Zephryus and One Month Off are the standouts for me.

George said...

Your review was spot on, I also feel kind of let down, some of the songs on the album are great (Signs, Halo, Trojan and Biko being stand-outs for me) whilst others just feel like BP have been forced to be experimental, ones like Ares feel a bit like a muddle of different songs... As with everyone else, Silent Alarm is easily their best album to date. Fantastic review!

Ken said...

Think it's a great album. It has their touches but with slightly different sound.It could be because I like hip hop, drum and bass, grime and other dance music that I'm loving this album.
Mercury to me was such a banger that I've had it on repeat (I felt the same with Positive Tension and The Prayer. The way the tune builds and gets layered over the repeated drum pattern is absolutely first class
For me it wasn't such a departure from what they've been doing because I've identified these beats and melodies with this group, maybe in different proportions but it's always been there.
The record might not seem like break up record to some people because it wasn't meant to sound cliched.
I think it's a bit harsh saying that Kele is some how forcing the band in a certain direction. Everything I've heard and read in interviews with other band memebers and they seem to be working together.

John said...

Wow I couldnt disagree with this review more. This album is fantastic through and through-one of the best Ive heard this year. Every song is well crafted and has its own unique feel. I think its funny that this reviewer says that he doesnt want Bloc Party to repeat Silent Alarm over and over, yet his favorite track 'Halo' is the most 'Bloc Party-esque' sounding song on the album. Also, how can you not see that this was written after a breakup? So many tracks' lyrics focus on looking back on a relationship (Signs/Trojan Horse/Ion Square). But regardless, I love this album for the great step forward Bloc Party has taken and their clever incorporation of new styles into their songs. I hear a little MIA in 'Ares' and a little Aphex Twin in 'Signs'. This is a fantastic album that gets better with each listen and is even better for those that can appreciate the evolution of the band's sound thats on display here.

esreverniuoy said...

I'm glad to see people commenting, I like when an album makes people feel like voicing their opinion.

After a few more listens, "Halo" sounds a bit too much like paint-by-numbers Bloc Party and less of the album standout. I guess I just imagine Bloc Party sounding like that track in my head when I think of something new for them, but I really do like some of the new directions they've gone and I'm always willing to follow them down the rabbit hole.

I'm really digging the second half of the album today, much more than I liked the second half of Weekend. I'm sure after a month or two I'll appreciate this album just as much as the rest of their catalogue, but for now it still rests just slightly below their first two releases (or three if you count Another Weekend, which I kind of do).

Thanks again for the comments, guys.

ithinkyoureswell said...

hello sir.

i got the album yesterday and i was excited as hell, but after listening to the first track i was thoroughly annoyed. i love this band, i think they have awesome energy, but this album is abysmal. there are maybe 3 tracks worth listening too, and only one of those deserving of multiple listens.

i wrote a review on it. let me know your feelings on what i heard.

i'd be interested.

my name is antwan.

ithinkyoureswell said...

also, This Modern Love is great, but Price of Gas is insanity! I can listen to it on repeat.

Anonymous said...

Is there really a Bloc Party album that is worth listening to other than Silent Alarm? No. Fret not.. there are much better and new bands that have only just begun their journey. If you like the insane drumming and groove of Silent Alarm you should try Battles (both EPs and the debut). Much better band all around.