Bloc Party - Intimacy
Mark Shields 28/08/2008
Forget the hype, a new Bloc Party album is always something to be interested in, even one released with only around 70 hours' warning, only a year and a half since their last one. They are part of a generation that people still question 'Are they more than the scene they were part of?”. Their debut album was a modern classic blast of indie spiked twitchy rock; many saw it as the second coming of Brit-pop, this time with more intellect and originality. Bloc Party spearheaded a new wave, the Kaiser Chiefs, Futureheads and Franz Ferdinand rode into the radios and CD collections of the indie scene-setters and then the mass populace.
Whilst contemporaries Kaiser Chiefs went full pop, Futureheads had a somewhat short life and rebirth cycle, Franz Ferdinand are still grasping onto that sliver of popular status, releasing a second album in quicktime and have had us waiting four years for the follow-up; Bloc Party meanwhile quietly have been working away, polishing their craft.
The last album, A Weekend in the City, was a controversial triumph. It lacked the prominent spiky guitars of Silent Alarm and it contained some of the worst lyrics of the last decade, but the package was not a typical second album, but a continuation - Bloc Party dodged the second album syndrome of either the same but more or different and worse, but had evolved enough to show the new direction they had in mind, with faults proving that they were human after all.
The quick announcement and release of Intimacy is obviously a gimmick but also a solution to the problem of an unauthorised internet leak - everyone hears it at the same time, and opinions fall over each other until the dust settles on the general consensus. Intimacy is a strong album; with experimental meanders down vocal processing, choral hauntings, untimely drum signatures and large yelping synth blasts. The beat driven single Mercury sounded like utter drivel sitting on its own, but in context, it makes sense in a very puzzling way.
Ares, the opener, sounds charged, it's a good statement of intent. Intimacy mixes the technical, fast, heavy guitar work and atmosphere of Silent Alarm with the brooding exploring songs of A Weekend in the City, but juggles the two manically, emerging at the end as a rather jumbled, but interesting mix. Biko, one of the greatest songs they've produced thus far, stands out showing that not only have Bloc Party moved on, but can write with the best of them.
When it dawns on the band that they can slow down, they spread their wings, fully realising that they can craft beautiful soundscapes with minimal guitar and gentler lyrics. It's in these moments where Intimacy trumps its predecessors. The slow and the immersive So Here We Are, a highlight from Silent Alarm, is echoed here with every strutting held string note, every slow rhythm, every quiet yelp from Kele Okereke.
At the end of Intimacy's ten tracks, you're surprised that they have achieved so much in such little time, until you realise that maybe, just maybe, they haven't done anything. The “experimentation” that was trialed before the release really isn't that “experimental"and the "classic Bloc Party" moments aren't really akin to the older albums. What Intimacy actually is can only be described as a third album, without any need to compare it to previous albums. Intimacy is very good, strong, assured, taught, and probably too short. It has the overall feel of an album that aspires to be better than the predecessors but keeps glancing back to check how it compares when it doesn't need to. It stands on its own right, without need for comparison to their back catalogue, and that, above all, is praise of the highest degree.
Released digitally on 21st August 2008.