Few bands display raw courage and an adventurous spirit more vividly than Bloc Party. Following a ferociously successful debut, the band switched up their clearly bankable hip dance-punk sound for a somber, dense rock veneer on follow-up A Weekend In the City, and many fans hoped for a return to their angular guitar roots. Intimacy will disappoint them, as Bloc Party continues their artistic travels into uncharted musical territory.
The album finds Bloc Party sounding almost nothing like the band they were before 2006, festooned with electronic trickery and obsessed with production manipulation. “Ares” pivots on a chopped-up, disjointed beat layered with Kele Okereke’s sneering vocals and a processed guitar line that sounds similar to the air-raid siren synths of Depeche Mode’s recent “A Pain That I’m Used To.” The song opens the record defiantly, serving as something of a statement of purpose for their Bowie-like chameleon aspirations. There is no “Like Eating Glass” or “Helicopter.” “Mercury” follows with an even more alienating electro-sheen, dominated by a pounding techno beat and a wash of synthesizer sounds.
Bloc Party delivers a handful of token hard-rock moments, proving lead guitarist Russell Lissack’s talents haven’t been entirely neglected. “Halo” boasts a delicious guitar riff over the sort of hyper drumming that made Silent Alarm one of the more electrifying debuts in recent memory. “Trojan Horse” highlights the album’s over-produced loudness, marked by thick guitars and a cement-heavy drum beat, while on the riveting “Better Than Heaven” they manage to marry the electronic elements with driving guitars for a perfect union.
While electronics take primacy, Intimacy‘s finest moment is its warmest and most human: the soaring ballad “Biko.” Okereke’s angelic vocals reach for theatrical high notes reminiscent of Martin Gore, revealing his growth as a vocalist, especially when tenderly delivering lines like “If I could eat your cancer I would.” Many of his lyrics are similarly naked and romantically focused, more Weekend In the City‘s inner excavation than Silent Alarm‘s urban exploration. Yet for all their daring spirit, the band tries too hard to disavow who they once were. Drummer Matt Tong and bassist Gordon Moaks are again relegated to the background, and despite some shining moments, the album begs for their rhythmic prowess, so divinely prevalent on Silent Alarm. Instead, repetitive beats form the bulwark upon which the band builds dense, synthesized sounds.
It is to Bloc Party’s credit that they strive to shatter every notion of what they were. Experimentation and evolution are sadly lacking among today’s bands, as they tend toward placating the middle-of-the-road fan. Such stagnancy usually suffocates them (e.g. Arctic Monkeys or their heroes the Strokes). Thus, Bloc Party disavows their history and start at a musical Year Zero. But the band hasn’t adequately replaced their former selves to justify jettisoning their pervious strengths. Radiohead successfully built a bridge between their past and future, but Intimacy is no Kid A. While their artistic reinvention is welcome, Bloc Party need not forget the gifts that made their debut an important contribution to the canon of contemporary pop.