Stunning everyone out of the blocks with the announcement of Intimacy last week, on the surface, one could be forgiven for questioning the band’s motives, giving people a two-day lead time in which to download their new third album. Add that to the fact that the increasingly insular band had until Monday refused to give a public interview this year (Last Monday was the first – in a chatroom with fans and the same interview they announced the release of Intimacy) and that their output since A Weekend in The City had suggested the band were flirting with electronics and you’ve got an interesting prospect for a third record.
We needn’t have worried about their self-imposing segregation. Intimacy suggests that Kele only wanted to speak in song, specifically about a recent break-up which informs the thematic here. He’s more obsessed with the politics of personal relationships than with real-world events. Musically, however there’s an air of experimentalism that was suggested on ‘Flux’ and the recently leaked ‘Mercury’.
Indeed, ‘Mercury‘ actually makes sense in the midst of this album rather than on its jarring, lonesome self. The major problem remains in Kele’s yelping, grating, vocal hook (‘My mercury’s in retrograde‘) which is a great pity as musically, it’s an extremely adventurous and ambitious tune.
Opener ‘Ares’ sounds uncomfortably close to being stolen from Rage Against The Machine’s version of the Stones’ ‘Street Fighting Man’ with its siren guitars and replica drums, though there are similarities to the Chemical Brothers in the drum pattern also. The title is the first reference of three to Greek and Roman mythology – Ares being the Greek God of warfare. ‘War, war, war, war! / I want to declare a war’, Kele declares in a rather befuddled manner.
It’s clear that the pairing of Jacknife Lee and Paul Epworth (the former responsible for A Weekend in The City and the latter for Silent Alarm) has allowed the band to experiment but it’s not always a total success as the uncharted territory leads to several cringeworthy moments including the key change in ‘One Month Off’ and Kele’s frequent caterwauls throughout. ‘Halo’ showcases the same high-velocity, energy as ‘Hunting for Witches’ without that song’s emotional and political core, though the lyrics are worthy of such sentiment.
The band should be applauded for trying out some new techniques as there are some real highlights as a result and thankfully, A Weekend in the City’s drab second half is not repeated here. ‘Zephyrus’ has some lovely heavenly choral background vocals coupled with a stuttering drum machine while ‘Signs’ is the best thing here – an intricate ballad with glockenspiel and subtle electronics, the album’s only truthful and emotional song. Closer ‘Ion Square’ takes its chorus from an E.E Cummings poem, (‘I carry your heart with me’) but it veers too close in tone to numerous Bloc Party songs of times past to truly stand out until the final two and a half minutes lift it above all other comparisons.
There’s a general feel of uneasiness imparted after hearing this album which stems from a lack of cohesive structure. Touches of experimentalism, a smattering of Silent Alarm-era riffage, standard Bloc Party ballads and attempts at a new sound which struggle and eventually fall back on the band’s established sound. It makes for an unsettled listen and is perhaps the result of both Jacknife Lee and Paul Epworth working together in the production booth.
Fans of Bloc Party’s distinctive taut guitar riffs may be slightly disappointed as they are few and far between but there is plenty of other fancy goods on offer amidst the maelstrom to suggest that the current incarnation of Bloc Party have the skills to escape their Silent Alarm past. They’re just not quite there yet.