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Bloc Party
Intimacy Luke Turner , August 22nd, 2008 15:47

Bloc Party - Intimacy

Bloc Party have always made themselves a frustratingly difficult band to like. Alright, so if you’re a 17 year old kid from Haywards Heath with a persecution complex and enough Camus in your blazer pocket to sneer at the emo kids, then their two albums of spiky guitars and developing punk/funk have no doubt been shining beacons of enlightenment amidst a hard and indifferent world, etc. etc. and so on amen.

For everyone else, though, Okereke’s lyrics of East London vampires and revolutions that start in Shoreditch (via a pleasant drive to Brighton on the weekend) have felt like a wasted opportunity to inject a little grey matter into a UK music scene that thrives on blinkered idiocy. Yet it wasn't only this that resulted in the rather lukewarm reception afforded to last album Weekend In The City. The album came and went (to borrow from one of the poets BP fans no doubt adore), not with a bang but a whimper, leaking onto the internet within days of being completed. To avoid this happening again, and for maximum media impact, Intimacy has been rush released at short notice via a five pound download. Cynics might suspect that the worth-a-punt pricing was intended to lure in the casual customer who wouldn't mind losing the sum should the album turn out to be a hormones-and-water-injected turkey. Cynics – myself included – would be wrong.

As ever, Okereke’s voice is going to be a stumbling block for many. Lyrically too there’s excuse for some teeth sucking: 'Ares' opens with a vow of “I want to declare war”, but Okereke's arsenal is revealed to contain loft conversions and blueberries in the fridge, angst and the decline of Western civilisation explored through a Waitrose shopping basket. He does, at least, confess that “I ain’t no bohemian”. However, the contemporary disquiet that he explores is a lot more palatable than Bobby Gillespie’s nonsense about corpses hanging from the street lighting of Stoke Newington on cords of organic linguini.

Yet to be fair to Okereke he, unlike Gillespie, still has naive youth on his side. Crucially, and this is central to the success of Intimacy, he has learned that emotion isn’t just expressed via wailing and the irritating over pronunciation of every syllable, but by meshing with the rest of Bloc Party. On ‘Zephyrus’, for instance, it’s a simple beat that’s to the fore, Okereke’s voice joining a choir and strings in floating orbit around the thuds and glitching. Indeed, throughout the band employ their usual sound – essentially a dialogue between Matt Tong’s brilliant drumming, spiky guitars, and electronic flotsam - but Paul Epworth’s production gives the whole a sense of purpose Bloc Party have previously lacked.

‘Mercury’, itself given the internet leak treatment, sounded awkward heard on its own, but in the context of the album is vibrant and caustic. ‘Signs’, with its talk of “bluebells in December”, might lead one to fear a sonorous testament on global warming, but makes for one of Bloc Party’s finest moments yet, the delicacy of glockenspiel and a russet carpet of strings carrying a subtle and tender love song. Closer ‘Ion Square’ is as good, rounding the album off on a triumphant note with clarion call and response guitars and exuberant drums.

Of course, all this praise comes with a caveat: Bloc Party will always come up against the fact that Radiohead’s OK Computer still stands monolithic over the terrain of personal and existential angst expressed through muddled guitars and electronics. This notwithstanding, although Intimacy is another album from Bloc Party about lonely souls in a hard and indifferent world etc. etc. and so on amen, for the first time, it’s arguably worth joining them in their struggle.