reviews: music: bloc party – intimacy

Bloc Party I take Bloc Party seriously.

By this I mean that they are one of the few bands I actually listen to and by listen to, I mean that I sit down and pay attention to the music and the lyrics. I like a lot of bands, but there are a scant few that I return to time and time again. Joy Division is one, R.E.M. is another, Elbow is definitely up there and Bloc Party most assuredly rounds out the set.

For me, and I will assume for a lot of people, music is a very personal thing. This is not to say that I do not enjoy my fluffy pop or my occasional foray into old school gangsta rap, I do. But this is to say, that when I love a band, I really take the band to heart. For those who know me, you know how constantly I refer to High Fidelity as a bible to my life — I AM the female Rob Gordon. (Complete with relationship problems, neuroses and other high jinks. But that is for another post.) And like Rob, who arranges his music automusicgraphically, I too also do the same. I can get from one band to another by telling you where I was, when I first heard it and what I was doing (or who I was doing).

If my choices seem a little chaotic at times, that is totally okay. Straight and narrow never won any interesting awards. But this is not really about me, per se, but more about Bloc Party and the release of their third album, Intimacy, a mere 18 months after A Weekend In The City. The album was released digitally at the end of August, with the physical release set for, in the U.K. and U.S., at the end of October. Word on the street is that the title tracks available on the physical release will differ from the digital download, but like the good little fan girl I am, I will have procured both. Silent Alarm, their first album with the stunning single Helicopters, came out kicking and squalling to the world in 2005. A Weekend In The City was their “falling in love” album in 2007 and I wasn’t too terribly surprised to find out that Intimacy is their “break-up” album of 2008. When the title track is entitled, “Ares,” and the song begins with “War! War! War!,” I got the feeling that Kele Okereke was stalking my life.

So, then, I must step back and do a bit of back story before I continue. Bloc Party, like a multitude of other bands over the years, is a band I heard of but never really got “in to,” until I met TheEx. TheEx and I have an interesting back story in that musically, we were perfect. We could, and often did, spend hours talking about music from producers to labels to motifs, sound, lyrics and design. Our joint collection neared nearly 2000 compact discs (60% his), dozens of vinyls (his) and over 100 gigs of digital music (mostly mine). We were concert whores who would travel hours for a good show, only to turn around and come back home that very night. With him, I found my perfect music man, someone who could discuss with me the nuances of music on a variety of different levels and not have to explain to him why I was found of the production values of X album over Y album or why I loved A band over B band.

TheEx was crazy about Silent Alarm and was eagerly waiting for A Weekend in the CIty, which came out in the very beginning of our relationship. And I’m not quite sure what it was about A Weekend in the City, but that became “my” album while Silent Alarm became his. To me, A Weekend in the City became the anthem of our relationship. Every song, every melody, every lyric no matter how distant somehow spoke to me, about us. I could see him in every song and certain songs became “our” songs. Every time I heard “Sunday,” with or without him near me, my heart would swell with love for him, because he would love me in the morning when I was hung over and strung out. And even though I knew that On was about doing coke, to me the lines, You make my tongue loose/I am hopeful and stutter free, was about how I felt around him. He made me feel hopeful and stutter free — I could (and did) tell him everything and anything, anytime and any place.

At the time, I felt that he made me an honest woman and with him, I was so much better off than without him. I like Silent Alarm, but A Weekend in the City had this energy that I responded to, a hunger if you will for living and for life. I liked the simplicity of Kele’s lyrics and the fact that he was able to lyrically say what he meant without going overboard with metaphor and unnecessary imagery. (I’m looking at you Radiohead and Coldplay — fucking wankers.) I adored the fact that every single time I heard the album, I heard something different and that everything about A Weekend in the City resonated with me emotionally and intellectually.

Like most intimate of relationships, TheEx and I did not end with a quiet whimper but with a huge, ferocious fuck-off bang. For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to reclaim my musical tastes but have found that in reality, I was hiding from it. I forewent listening to Pandora, XM and my CD collection on general to podcasts and NPR. I did not want to put myself through musical depression – even with bands that I claimed as mine were also his and by listening to said bands would conjure up all the feelings, the good with the bad.

When I found out Bloc Party had released a new album digitally, with the physical release forthcoming, I was surprised. I was, apparently, not the only one. Bloc Party has been touring almost non-stop since the release of A Weekend in the City, which was released in February 2007. Other than a single released last summer, the synth dance song “Flux,” there has been no talk or announcement of a new album. Shortly after the digital release at the end of August, reviews started showing up by the beginning of September, with a split vote on Intimacy.

People fell into several camps

  1.  That Intimacy was an attempt to return to the area that Silent Alarm began, failed with A Weekend in the City and was struggling to fill and was a mixed-bag.
  2. That Intimacy not only returned to the horizon of Silent Alarm but surpassed it. A Weekend in the City? A blip and could be written off as their sophomoric disc (which it is).
  3. That Intimacy failed on many levels, was absolute drek and that Bloc Party, as a whole, are a bunch of pretentious wankers.

For me, I’m apparently in the minority. I love A Weekend in the City more so over Silent Alarm (and thought it was one of the best albums of 2007) but Intimacy is growing on me. I was looking for, excuse the obvious, but the intimacy and the slowness of A Weekend in the City only to be greeted by dance pop and synth experiments hold over from their single, Flux, which at first annoyed me. But it is the lyrics, oh $deity, I love you Kele, the lyrics more than make up for the choppiness of the disc, the messiness that is “Zephyrus” and the overwhelming urge they have to experiment TOO much.

But it is with their weaknesses that they also have their biggest strengths — Bloc Party has no problem selling out arenas, have gained a fairly successful following in the U.S. and tour almost constantly. They have hit almost every major festival abroad and in the U.S. The fact that they have, somehow, managed to get into the studio to record a third album and not only record it but have the production completed in a relatively short time is almost mind boggling. And according to the interview with bassist Gordon Moakes on pitchfork, the band is just as surprised as their fans at the quick turnaround.

I don’t view the turnaround as a negative thing, rather again, I look to the lyrics for the answers. If A Weekend in the City was about falling in love, relationships and living life, Intimacy is about breaking-up and the obvious, almost debilitating aspects of separating from the one you love. From “Ares,” declaring war on the person who wronged you, to “Halo” about questioning the love, to “One Month Off,” at the anger of one’s partner after a long term relationship ends, to that remembrance of the good times in “Better Than Heaven,” to the pitiful, desperate plea of return to that love in “Ion Square.”

Every relationship counselor (and Cosmo issue) will tell you that separation after a break-up tends to follow the same rules of grief that the death of a loved one follows:

  1. Denial. – “Mercury.” “Halo.” “Better Than Heaven.”
  2. Anger. – “Ares.” “One Month Off.”
  3. Bargaining. “Signs.” “Halo.” “Bilko.” “Trojan Horse.”
  4. Depression. “Signs.” “Halo.”
  5.  Acceptance. “Zephyrus.” “Ion Square.”

Some songs resonate with better topics than others, but the point is still there. This is Kele’s exorcism against the end of a love that obviously broke his heart. And it is with this, with Kele’s lyrics and the buffing of the depressing themes with synth tunes and dubbeats that most will find to be a turn-off and thusly, a shite album. Some will claim that this is a desperate attempt to grab the glory they had with Silent Alarm and failing while others will claim they are attempting to parody their influences and are bilking too much of their popularity by riding on the coattails of Coldplay and Radiohead. I don’t think Intimacy is a great album, but I do think it is a good one. I do agree that there is, at times, too much going on at one time while at others, it seems almost perfect.

While I would recommend it, I would recommend it after listening to the first two albums — like most great bands, you need to get the scope of the band’s lineage before diving in several albums in. With several months between the digital and physical release, who is to say what the physical album will sound like? And as for me, I unfortunately saw too much of TheEx inside the lyrics after my first spin with the disc a few weeks ago. The beginning of Trojan Horse chilling reminds me of the rituals that TheEx performed before we too made love. Signs, also eerily like the lasting days of our relationship. And Ares and One Month Off remind me of me, in those “OHNOESHEDIDNOT” moods I would would sometimes (occasionally) cycle through. Despite my initial reservation, Intimacy is the tip of the catharsis to push me over the edge. It is not the time for a new love or to sign a new lease, but at least now, I know that one day there will be.