October 27, 2008 marked the release date of English rock band Bloc Party's third studio record Intimacy. After the undeniable success of their previous efforts, their former musical incarnations became a tough act to follow—the band’s impressive number of plays on music-oriented social site Last.FM are certainly proof of their strong fan base.
For a record featuring an album jacket of two people kissing and bearing the name Intimacy, I cannot say that I felt any personal facet until the fourth track, Biko, which delivers soft-spoken lyrics along with oddly placed harsh synthesizer effects. The music could have been derived directly from a Matmos album, as the beats come off a little sloppy—kinda like a child sitting at his daddy's keyboard. For those of you who are wondering, this track is not a cover of the 1980 Peter Gabriel track of the same time, though both tracks do allude to the late South African activist.
As I progressed through this album, I began to question the taste level of the band members. The melody of Trojan Horse sounded like it had true potential, but the awful effects they loaded onto it made it a headache-inducing nightmare. Something tells me that Bloc Party's equation for this particular song was to take a nice song and then make it sound like it's being played through a dying cell phone speaker. There is a nice guitar break to listen, but it's hidden beneath layers and layers of exploding noise. Oh, and just a warning - please take an Advil before letting this song play-- especially for all you audiophiles out there who care about the health of your sensitive canals.
Intimacy begins to pick up quite a bit directly after the last track (then again, they had nowhere to go but up), as the bonus song that follows, Signs, is as much a gem as Trojan Horse is a disaster. Reminiscent of a music box crossed with a wind chime, Signs will give you a sense of what this album could have been. The vocals on the track are pretty decent for Bloc Party, whose frontman Kele Okereke doesn't exactly have the voice of an angel. While I'm sure that vocals don't play a huge part in Bloc Party's success, they really can make or break a band.
If softer music isn't exactly your speed, then you're probably going to be inclined to like the urgent-sounding One Month Off, in which Bloc Party proves that they can make music with a hard-edged sound but still be intimate. Mr. Okereke's panicked vocals actually pay off here, giving the track a sense of despair, as if the narrator is at his wits ends, screaming: I can be as cruel as you / fighting fire with firewood. If you've ever had a love that you thought was invincible, but just seemed to fizzle out, then this is more or less your anthem. It's got enough drive to get the fans on their feet and clever lines to make writers like me happy.
By this point in the record, Bloc Party loses its steam. Rather than getting better and better with every track, it seems to plateau, peaking with the Postal Service-esque Ion Square, which is a six and a half minute song that steadily changes direction in a very skillful way. If the remaining tracks weren't ruined by the Okereke’s obnoxious vocals, then they were just plain forgettable. I'll leave you to decide which type of track is worse. Overall, this album is nothing special. It's the type of stereotypical post-rock/indie music that intentionally goes against the grain of typical songwriting— which, under the right circumstances, can work wonderfully; but if you're going to do that, you need to make sure that your music doesn’t sound as worn out as this album does. While Bloc Party’s latest effort does have its high points, in the end, you won’t be wanting to get intimate with this record anytime soon.
My personal favorite picks are in bold.
1. "Ares" - 3:30
2. "Mercury" - 3:53
3. "Halo" - 3:36
4. "Biko" - 5:01
5. "Trojan Horse" - 3:32
6. "Signs" - 4:40
7. "One Month off" - 3:39
8. "Zephyrus" - 4:35
9. "Talons" - 4:43
10. "Better than Heaven" - 4:22
11. "Ion Square" - 6:33
12. "Letter to My Son" - 4:24
13. "Your Visits Are Getting Shorter" - 4:23
Bloc Party is...