Label: Wichita Release Date: Download Now/CD 27/10/08 Link:

Since the shock release of ‘In Rainbows’ a little under 12 months ago, every band or artist who suddenly makes their latest record available online with little to no prior notice is dubbed as “doing a Radiohead”. And thus Bloc Party, who put their third album on the World Wide Web a couple of days before their return to the Reading and Leeds festivals, have been branded in much the same way. Of course, this isn’t the only parallel that can be drawn between the Londoners and Oxfordians – both groups are outwardly fond of experimentation and each section of their back catalogue shows a distinct progression or change in sound.

After the grand unveiling of trumpet filled lead single ‘Mercury’ (brought to the world’s attention via a largely pointless web countdown), singer Kele Okereke promised fans ‘Intimacy’ would be a record that combined elements of the group’s previous two LPs, ‘Silent Alarm’ and A Weekend in the City’. Whilst never coming close to eclipsing the raw power and energy of their debut, ‘Intimacy’ does capture some of the urgency that first made Bloc Party stand apart from the rest of the much-lauded, trendy bands rising from the capital in 04/05. Vocals-wise, this might be Okereke’s strongest performance yet, showing vast improvement in his range and expression.

Opening track ‘Ares’ suffers a little because of this though, with Okereke over-using this talent of his, with vocals that sound forcibly upbeat and, at times, a little too ghetto. Looking past that, it’s beautifully noisy, with Russell Lissack’s wondrous guitar skills creating the kind of emergency ‘A Weekend in the City’ lacked. Perfectly balanced in the mix is the entirely fitting hook line “We danced to sounds of sirens”, whilst underneath drummer Matt Tong works overtime to prove he’s one of the best British drummers around right now.

Most reactions I’ve read to this record so far have belittled Okereke’s lyrics and whilst he mightn’t be the greatest of songwriters and can sometimes err more on the side of clumsy than poetic there are some great moments on this album. ‘Halo’, for instance, is a perfect example of how right he can get it, lustfully elucidating “Behind your eyes were stars/Infinite and serene/How I could suffer for you/you fascinate and magnetize me”. Even ‘Mercury’ with its opening line of “My Mercury’s in retrograde” couldn’t be described as bad or nonsensical when put into the context of its astrological meaning – astrologists believe when Mercury rotates backwards from Earth we have trouble expressing our thoughts and feelings.

What Bloc Party do best, apart from creating a tremendous sense of urgency, is write hair-raising epics that bring a whole host of emotions washing over you with an irresistible force. ‘Biko’ is one of those songs that will have you welling up before the spoken climax of “You’re not doing this alone”. And then, before you have too long to dwell on those feelings, ‘Trojan Horse’ brings you crashing back down to Earth with no apology. Not that I am one to tell Bloc Party how to order their track listing but ‘Signs’ following ‘Biko’ could’ve created a much more gentle and effective transition between tracks, with it’s tender chiming xylophone starting point.

‘One Month Off’ is the closest to brutal ‘Intimacy’ gets with its distorted staccato bass the main focus of the song, heralding back that raw element of songs such as ‘Banquet’ and ‘Positive Tension’. “I can be as cruel as you/fighting fire with firewood” sings Okereke repeatedly before hitting what can only be described as an exceptionally awesome key change which then, sadly, descends into over-experimentation that ‘Intimacy’ can sometimes be accused of.

‘Zephyrus’ is a more stripped back affair with just Okereke’s vocals and Tong’s crunk-esque beats being the only instantly noticeable sounds for the most part of the track, until the gospel choir comes in. Yes. Gospel choir. I kid you not. It’s somewhat unnecessary but after three or four listens starts to make a little sense – it certainly sounds a lot more haunting than it might have been without them.

Penultimate track ‘Better than Heaven’ is almost as sparse but errs more on the dance-y side, like ‘The Prayer’ and ‘Flux’ merged, erupting with a minute and a half left into the most powerful, titanic crescendo. ‘Intimacy’, perhaps titled so due to Okereke’s most open, honest and frank lyrics yet, ends with another of those epics that is so beautifully and intricately constructed it makes you wonder how this record might have sounded if the experimentation was a little less forced and a touch more natural. Still, even though it clocks in at nearly six and a half minutes, it’s the perfect end to a record that isn’t as bad as a lot of people have made out. Sure, ‘Intimacy’ is no ‘Silent Alarm’ but is it realistic of us to expect Bloc Party to ever produce something of that magnitude again? Perhaps if we stopped setting ourselves up for a disappointment and just accepted each record as it came, one day we could be pleasantly surprised.

Rhian Daly