03
Sep
08

The Greek Chorus of Relationship Guilt: Bloc Party’s Intimacy

Released in digital format on August 21 (and to be released on physical format with some bonus tracks at the much later date of October 27), Bloc Party’s latest album, Intimacy, had become one of those albums I forgot to anticipate or expect. Its release blindsided me a bit. I’ve been a fan of Bloc Party since before the release of their first album, Silent Alarm (which was released considerably later in Canada than in the UK) – I consider them the best of the bunch that all seemed to appear on the music scene at the same time (Kaiser Chiefs, Maximo Park, Franz Ferdinand). Their jagged, jerky post-punk guitars and windmilling drums paired with often vicious and/or political lyrics stood out from the rest of the pack, and I took them far more seriously than their contemporaries. And despite their sophomore album, A Weekend in the City, being a bit of directional change (more electronics and more personal lyrics), I still really enjoyed them – the commentary on life in London in the 21st century was just as political and meaningful as direct commentary on broader global themes. With Intimacy, it seems Bloc Party have taken the next logical step in evolution: even more electronic influences (which was hinted at with non-album single Flux) and even more personal lyrics ostensibly about singer Kele Okereke’s recent breakup. If Silent Alarm was an abstract comment on a global situation and A Weekend in the City was a more localized remark on 21st century youth in the English capital, Intimacy brings the focus down even closer as it comments on Okereke’s personal situation of a fraught relationship – the album often brings the microscope down so forcefully it shows the spidery cracks of the slide of Okereke’s personal life. Though Bloc Party have strayed considerably from their commentary on world politics, they have still found a way to discuss politics – in this case, relationship and sexual politics, which I think can be seen as world power struggles and politics in microcosm.

Bloc Party has always been exceptional at presenting a dark, intelligent vulnerability rather than the cheeky bravado of their contemporaries and with Intimacy, they have opened up even further while filling out the rattly skeletal frame of their Gang of Four guitars with bigger electronics. It is also readily apparent that this record features numerous Greek mythology references, giving the piece a feeling of overarching theme. Appropriately titled after the god of war, album opener, Ares, is an aural assault of one of the most violating kinds with shredding guitars and electronic noise grating up and down your spine. It feels like a catharsis of frustration expelling your insides onto an anonymous dancefloor Bacchanalia where it will be trampled into something more intoxicating. Mercury, which is the only single to be officially released as of yet, takes Bloc Party’s former jagged angles and refashions them into an electro angularity with its skipping, clipped chorus of “mercury’s in retrograde”; this chorus is also a lovely metaphorical one that can be read in a variety of ways, including in the astrological sense, in a temperature sense, or of course in a Greek mythological sense. The skipping, synchopated style of the chorus gives a sense of slipping and sliding backwards like a jittery Sisyphus. Halo is more rock-based, hearkening back to Bloc Party’s debut, but perhaps is a little too reminiscent of Helicopter, although its interlude of raucous guitars and cymbal crashes is still quite good. Its lyrics hint at infatuation at first sight tempered by a knowledge that it’s just too good to last.
The album takes a softer turn with Biko, which seems to be both about Steve Biko, a noted black South African anti-apartheid activist who died from injuries suffered during interrogation and a personal relationship with someone who is slipping away. Biko begins with a lone(ly) guitar before blooming into a more frenetic pleading as Okereke returns once again to Greek mythology by invoking a crossing of the River Styx. Trojan Horse is one of my favourite tracks on the album with the beautiful lines “You used to take your watch off before we made love/You didn’t want to share our time with anyone.” Amidst the squeaks and squawks of feedback and sound effects, Okereke manages to smuggle in a core of tenderness and disillusionment. Signs reins in the rocking pace with tinkling chimes and glockenspiel while building beyond the childlike music box atmosphere as the lyrics once more linger over the death of a loved one.

One Month Off swings back to an angry tone as heavy drums join even heavier guitars, which remind me of Klaxons’ Atlantis to Interzone. It also features some of Okereke’s best lyrics, dripping with vindictiveness: “I can be as cruel as you/Fighting fire with firewood/I can be as cruel as you/Fighting lies with lies.” The idea of fighting fire with the futility of firewood is a brilliant image, and this chorus just seems to shortcircuit itself with stuttered fury by the finale. Zephyrus, which is named for the Greek god of the west wind, features a Prayer-like drumbeat and lyrics which reference the fact Zephyrus abducted Chloris and made her goddess of flowers: “And your face is still wet from the fight before/As your tears hit the ground, blue flowers spring from them.” There is also an eerie choir in the background, seemingly acting like a Greek chorus of guilt as the narrator seems to be feeling the guilt of falling out of love with someone. Better Than Heaven uses a bouncier beat and toned-down melodies for Okereke’s attack on the concept of original sin and the danger of knowledge until a firestorm of guitars whips the song apart like a volcano of desire. Final track, Ion Square, features lines from E.E. Cummings’ poem I Carry Your Heart With Me and uses an insistent piano and rippling wistfulness similar to LCD Soundsystem’s All My Friends to convey a desperate grasp at preserving the initial heady feeling of love and attraction. The gentle vocals and baby’s breath sprays of electronic sound meld into a hopeful tribute to whatever could pass as undying love in a mortal world.

I’m still pretty bitter about not being able to see Bloc Party during their North American tour, but hey, if you live somewhere other than Winnipeg, you likely have a good chance of going to see them. Enough complaining. I think Intimacy is exactly where Bloc Party should be right now – translating age-old quandaries of the human condition into a “postmodern” theatre where people still wear masks when loving each other.

Ares – Bloc Party

Trojan Horse – Bloc Party

Ion Square – Bloc Party

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1 Response to “The Greek Chorus of Relationship Guilt: Bloc Party’s Intimacy”


  1. 1 King Doug
    September 5, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Well, you certainly give it a good write up. Unfortunately, I’ll be doing what I did with NIN’s last album, The Slip, and wait until the physical release. I’ve actually just been getting properly into Silent Alarm this week, since it wasn’t until The Prayer that I decided Bloc Party were officially separate from the Kaiser Chiefs/Killers/Futureheads group of bands, so I’ll just entertain myself with that until October.


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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

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So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

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Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

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Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

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Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

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Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

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You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

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I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

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You'll never live like common people

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You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

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Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

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Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

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Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

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Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

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And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

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Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

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We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

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Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south

Empty

Running on

Bravado

As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different

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LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

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Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

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You must let her go

She's not crying

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Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

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So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

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Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

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No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

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All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

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Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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