Bloc Party, ‘Intimacy’ (Atlantic)
After the success of 2005’s spiky, straightforward debut, Silent Alarm, Bloc Party took an undeserved thumping for last year’s more textured, politically minded, and ultimately better A Weekend in the City. Intimacy looks forward and backward: Enlisting producers from both of their previous records seems like a perfectly sensible way to achieve a satisfying hybrid of past successes — but who let these mammoth-sounding drum machines in here?
Intimacy’s epically left-field opening comprises “Ares” (whose block-rockin’ beats and raving sirens are either an homage to, or blatant bite of, the Chemical Brothers’ “Setting Sun”), and the similarly frantic “Mercury,” whose buzzes, thumps, and staccato, sample-happy vocals are new to this Party. Those two songs are gambits in the vein of Radiohead’s “Idioteque” — unexpected and initially off-putting, but eventually understandable in context.
After that exhausting one-two punch, things settle down: “Halo” and “One Month Off” take the jackhammer, post-punk Silent Alarm route, while “Trojan Horse” and “Biko” go for Weekend-like subtlety and quietude. All the while, Kele Okereke’s lyrics make it clear the album’s title is no accident: This is his relationship record, and his words can be charmingly prosaic (“I’m sitting in Soho trying to stay drunk”) or monumentally clumsy (“I love my mind / When I’m fucking you”). But even as Intimacy gets sonically or lyrically precarious — “Zephyrus” recalls “Jesus Walks,” for Christ’s sake — it does so while reaching hard toward something exhilarating.