Silent Alarm (2005) – 3 1/2 stars
A Weekend in the City (2007) – 4 1/2 stars
Intimacy (2008) – 4 stars
Bloc Party exploded right out of the gate in 2005 as one of the most acclaimed bands in this decade’s post-punk revival phase. Their debut album, Silent Alarm, managed the tricky feat of garnering both critical and commercial praise, placing them at the top of the ranks that included Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, The Arctic Monkeys, and others. Headed by frontman Kele Okereke’s engaging voice and atypical deftness with wordplay, this multi-national band transcends their new-wave and post-punk influences to create a sound thoroughly 21st century.
Indeed, they sound fresh, edgy, and modern on Alarm. The wonderfully vibrant opening duo of “Like Eating Glass” and “Helicopter” captivate from the start, Matt Tong’s staccato drumming propelling the first and Russell Lissack’s stuttering, descending guitar line the second. Yet several songs on the album titillate with untapped potential; overall, the ballads (“This Modern Love,” “Compliments”) fare better than the rockers, which tend to meander as the album progresses. Future efforts would be enhanced by Okereke’s improving lyrics and a more focused attention to songcraft.
Sophomore effort A Weekend in the City diverged from Silent Alarm and didn’t impress critics. Never mind that, for it’s a soaring, incredibly atmospheric, often soothing work that proves BP aren’t just concerned with lighting up a club. The instruments less spiky and more haunting, the production beautifully dense and lush, the vocals lovelier, Weekend makes it hard to think of Bloc Party as a post-punk revivalist band at all. Swirling, heavenly choruses on songs like “Waiting for the 7:18” and “The Prayer” ensnare the listener, and the band pulls back for a couple of magnificent, wintry interludes on the closing duo of “Sunday” and “SRXT.”
Frontman Kele Okereke provides touching vocals in “On” and contributes fine lyrics throughout. His overall theme addresses various aspects of modern-day life in London, though most of his thoughts, including those on irrational bigotry in the fiery “Hunting for Witches,” could apply on this side of the ocean. “Uniform” has an inconsistent hold on melody, but Okereke quietly singing “There was a sense of disappointing as we left the mall / All the young people looked the same” more than makes up for that. His concerns aren’t always rock staples—the outstanding duo of “Kreuzberg” and “I Still Remember” address, respectively, dissatisfaction with commitment-free relationships and what is likely a homosexual connection—and he hammers home the unconventional motifs with unconventionally intelligent lyrics, completing the puzzle.
Last year’s Intimacy neither re-writes Weekend nor bows to critics by returning to the sound of the debut. Indeed, it feels independent, as though it could have come out at any time. Several tracks are among their heaviest, while they also make room for brooding dirges. From tracks three through nine, the powerful, odd-numbered rockers easily outpace the sparse, even-numbered ballads. The album’s difficult to get into at first, but it hits spectacular peaks: sharp, sexy come-ons meld with the sharp, sexy riff in “Halo”; “One Month Off” sizzles with righteous vigor; “Talons” whips up a frenzied, apocalyptic sound perfectly at home with the lyrics fascinated with the menacing (“I didn’t think I’d catch fire when I held my hand to the flame”); and the majestic and ravishing “Ion Square” marries an insistent, orchestral beat to Okereke’s demand for commitment in a relationship.
Sounding both beaten-down and optimistic, he concedes that “the hunger of those early years will never return,” but that doesn’t make him want to run out to the next parcel of grass. When the excitement has dimmed, when you’re too old for clubs and unable to see someone for the first time again, Kele says, it’s still not worth giving up. “Let’s stay in, let the sofa be our car / let’s stay in, let the TV be our stars” he cries during the almost painfully emotional climax. The drop into the second chorus at the end is so mind-bogglingly good that it elevates the entire album, making the song their finest hour and a perfect conclusion to an entire effort devoted to relationships. These boys have been more accessible, but rarely so intense.