Artist: Bloc Party
Comments: Few bands understand the pressure to produce like Bloc Party. After Silent Alarm, a legitimately good album that got blown out of proportion by expectations and the passage of time, people began a clamor for them to repeat that has not stopped since. The flawed, underlying equation behind this idea looks like this: If Album X was this good, then album Y will be even better. No one likes to think that their first work is their best work, however the release of Intimacy seems to suggest that Bloc Party's best days might be behind them.
Not to say that this is a bad album. Intimacy is leaps and bounds better than the band's sophomore release, A Weekend in the City, which was sick with ill-advised production, nickel-and-dime love songs and new-wave leanings. Ironically, where Weekend was more of a bedroom album, Intimacy is a rock album that looks to strike the same rocking post-punk chord that the band achieved on their first album.
And at times, the album succeeds. "Zephyrus," "One Month Off" and "Ares" are some of the bands more rocking numbers, falling in line with tracks like "She's Hearing Voices" and "Luno," although the former never really reach the breakout recklessness of the latter two. "Ares" is especially interesting. The song scurvies on the band's standard of zip lock tight percussion and angular guitar work despite having no real chorus to speak of and a rather unimpressive lyrical output from Kele Okereke (turns out he's not a fan of war).
A big part of Silent Alarm's success was its production. The music on that album was obviously rooted in modern music technology without being overt about it. Sure, there were loop machines, moogs, modulators, overdubbing and any other number of studio tricks but the songs were never reliant on them. Despite all of the wizardry, there was still an impression that this was rock music first, studio experimentation second. The music came first, then the fuzz. Intimacy continues the band's love affair with production, but in a more overt and less satisfying way. Lead single "Mercury" is a good example, with its heavily over-dubbed vocals. Sure, you can loop that sort of thing live, but there's no romance in it, no heart.
For a band like Bloc Party, a group that made their beds by playing stirring, grandiose post punk, having no heart is a big problem. There's nothing here to rival the band's best anthems save for last track "Ion Square," which is a good song despite its overproduction that creates a separation between the listener and the song. "Signs" shoots for "Modern Love" 2.0, but lands closer to Sigur Ros than anything else, and "Biko" would be a lot better if it didn't feature some shockingly cheesy canned drums.
Intimacy is a rock record that looks to wash away the unsatisfying taste of Weekend, and in that respect it is a success. It makes a much more satisfying follow up to Silent Alarm, and is much more listenable than their actual sophomore album. The band's key elements (attacking drums, exciting guitar work, charismatic vocals) are still intact. However, the hints of new wave that marred Weekend, along with the shift away from any kind of anthem that mixes the band's softer side with their angular roots means that precious few tracks will stick to the ribs. Two albums later, the pressure is still on for Bloc Party to repeat. Sadly, it's starting to look like they might not be able to.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Key Tracks: Ares, One Month Off, Ion Square
Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal