Monday, November 24, 2008

Bloc Party - Intimacy

One of the main purposes of having an actual drummer instead of a machine to do your drumming for you is to have someone in the band who'll give you a firm slap in the event you present lyrics for consideration that include phrases like "my mercury's in retrograde." By this standard, Bloc Party's Matt Tong isn't doing his fucking job.

Bloc Party's third album sees the band attempting to merge the noisier post-punk tendency of their debut with the introspection and widescreen production of last year's A Weekend In The City. The result is a disjointed, heavily synthesized affair that's simultaneously more ambitious and less successful than the previous albums, and one that continues singer Kele Okereke's propensity for teeth-grinding sixth-form lyrical howlers.

Things kick off in experimental electronic mode with the noisy one-two of "Ares" and single "Mercury". The former nicks its rhythm section straight out of The Chemical Brothers' Block Rockin' Beats in a move The Chemical Brothers themselves would presumably reject as too obvious, while the latter plays out like a more aggressive take on Silent Alarm's "Price Of Gas".  From there things bounce around between weepy and shouty but there's not a lot that really leaves its mark - there's nothing with quite the attack of "Helicopter" or "She's Hearing Voices", nothing that carries the emotional heft of "Kreuzberg" or "I Still Remember". 

The album isn't without its standouts - "Better Than Heaven" rumbles along atop an ominous Depeche Mode bassline, and "Signs" is a pretty, refreshingly simple affair that relies on a repeating synth bell sequence. The strongest track is the e.e. cummings-quoting closer, "Ion Square", which combines a propulsive train-track rhythm with arpeggiated synth lines, but derails somewhat as your attention turns to the lyrics mid-song ("I love my mind/When I'm fucking you" - presumably not one of e.e. cumming's contributions...)

Bloc Party remain a frustrating proposition, capable of greatness, of connection and occasionally of meaning, but hamstrung by a propensity for clumsy lyrical self-indulgence and a recent tendency toward too much fucking about in Pro Tools. The new electronic cut and paste style doesn't really add anything to the picture except greater cacophany and less impact, masking the fact that the songs often feel like half-formed echoes of earlier efforts. Silent Alarm remains both their strongest statement of intent and their finest hour to date.

The US edition tacks on "Flux", released as a single in 2007, along with two other bonus tracks. They make the album longer. Please stop doing this.


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