Just weeks ago, Bloc Party announced that their third album, Intimacy, was unlikely to be released until late 2008 at the earliest. But with three days notice, the album was made available as a £5 download on the band’s website on 21 August.
Quite why remains uncertain. Perhaps this is stealth release as deployed by Radiohead, intended to give the fans first bite of the cherry and avoid leaks stealing the thunder of release.
Opener Ares certainly merits some thunder. Sharing its name with the Greek war god, the track is a full-on assault of ferocious drums and distorted vocals. The affected South London patois adopted by frontman Kele Okereke sounds almost like Dizzee Rascal as the singer attacks gang culture and intolerance.
Mercury, the only track to have been unveiled before the LP release, maintains the energy of the opener. However, it doesn’t work any better in the context of the album than it did as a single, it still sounds like a pretty turn of phrase repeated ad infinitum in the hope that it will become profound, but instead it becomes meaningless.
The avalanche of drums, electronica and Kele’s yelps continues through the conflicted, taut and violent lovesong Halo. Biko is a far mellower affair, which along with Signs forms a duo of laments for dead friends. The second of these songs is the maudlin highlight of the album, with chimes adding a degree of Kate Bush atmospherics that complement the mournful narrative of the lyrics.
Elsewhere, the electronic stylings that have been unveiled in singles Flux and Mercury fail to disguise poor lyrics and limited themes, such as the unartful dissection of a failing relationship of Trojan Horse (“you used to take your watch off before we made love”), the literally hackneyed dissection of a failing relationship of One Month Off (“when we started this it was paradise, not Bethnal Green”), or the pretentious attempts at obscure depth of Mercury or Zephyrus.
While Ares and Signs are two of Bloc Party’s best songs, rather than build on the promising combination of youthful political zeal, wide-eyed confusion and personal conflict on their at times blistering debut Silent Alarm, like A Weekend in the City, Intimacy feels like the same album recycled. Their attempts to disguise their limited palette – the move to electronica and a propensity to strive for profound lyrical repetition – are a thin, shoddy veneer that easily peels off, rapidly revealing, for example, that Ion Square is actually I Still Remember with slightly different lyrics.
At its best Intimacy is taut and claustrophobic or movingly sentimental, but for the main part it is repetitious and bafflingly poorly realised, especially given that they could have had an extra six months to work on it. Without being bad, Intimacy is shockingly unmemorable. The strange circumstances of the release smack of an attempt to slip the album out under the radar in the hope that no-one will notice.