BLOC PARTY: INTIMACY (2008)
1) Ares; 2) Mercury; 3) Halo; 4) Biko; 5) Trojan Horse; 6) Signs; 7) One Month Off; 8) Zephyrus; 9) Talons; 10) Better Than Heaven; 11) Ion Square; 12*) Letter To My Son; 13*) Your Visits Are Getting Shorter.
With the release of the single 'Flux' in November 2007, an atrocious electronic monstrosity with auto-tuned Kele vocals (welcome to the world of Cher, brother), Bloc Party have officially switched from «indie rock» to what they call «alternative dance». Fortunately, 'Flux' was more of a wild, stupid experiment than a genuine shift of direction; the follow-up album is nowhere near as disgusting. It is simply bland, and has no reason whatsoever to be listened to in an era when the entire musical output of 2008 might quantitavely match the entire musical output of several decades of the XXth century.
If Weekend In The City downplays the band's strengths, then Intimacy commands us to forget they ever existed in the first place. Guitars and drums are either buried under computer-electronic layers, or filtered through them, making individual playing talent unnoticeable — an exercise in humility, some might say, but perhaps «self-humiliation» would be a more precise term. Considering that melody writing has never been one of Bloc Party's fortes, what need have we of this kind of plastic sound, which is not even innovative in the least degree? The retro inspiration behind this stuff are the likes of U2's Zooropa, but even if we manage ourselves not to despise that particular model, that sort of ideology still went out of style ages ago. Why bring it back at all?
Absolutely everything that could go wrong with this album, did go wrong. Starting with the title: Intimacy would suggest something very personal (or, at least, something very dirty), but the whole thing is just as loud, noisy, and chaotic as it used to be, with Okereke's «vision», if the word may be used at all, drowned in the sea of electronic effects, drum machines, and overall musical brawn. If you bother to drag out individual songs, tear them apart and scrutinize every detail, I concede that you will find lots of different «trivia» to write about. But all of them serve the same purpose: transform «generic dance» into «alternative dance» by introducing the factor of unpredictability. So, what kind of effect will they adorn Kele's voice with on the next track? Will they just introduce a synth-guitar riff or will it be backed up by an «atmospheric» sci-fi fart noise? Will Matt Tong engage in a battle with a drum machine or will he just be taking a nap? Why, how come I don't really give a damn?
All the more painful to realize that, somewhere behind all this misconstructed wall of outdated sonic shit, Kele «Pink» Okereke is still lurking as a sympathetic, vulnerable, lyrical kind of guy who can be quite sincerely committed to the art of tear-jerking. The first few minutes of 'Biko', a song that has nothing to do with the 'Biko' of Peter Gabriel but is instead a funebral lament for a loved one, almost Poe-style, are so powerfully delivered that the song races fast towards the beauty mark — only to have the cretinous drum simulations come in and remind the listener that «this is the world of machinery, a mechanical nightmare» (© Ray Davies). There is also a funny bit at the beginning of 'Zephyrus', where the engineers construe a Björk-ian psychedelic concoction out of Kele's owwws and ooohs, but that, too, will disappear in a few seconds, buried under a layer of irrelevant, boring vocal harmonies as the band goes for some sort of poor man Dead Can Dance imitation which I cannot figure anyone swallowing except those who don't know one single thing about music from the last three decades. Oh God.
It is true that these days, decent bands tend to commit artistic suicide far more swiftly than they used to, but even under contemporary conditions, Bloc Party have outshone most of their competition. It does not help, either, that many of the reviews have been surprisingly positive: want it or not, apparently, this combination of banal guitar indie with even more banal electronic dance happened to be considered trendy in 2008, winning the band support from Rolling Stone and probably ensuring that, instead of getting their heads straight, they will want to repeat something like this in the future, wasting good CD plastic and hours of our precious time, much better spent learning the basics of string theory or something. Thumbs down to the ground.
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