Bloc Party – The Party’s Swinging

November 20, 2008 § 1 Comment

Published: Music Australia Guide, #60, November 2008.

Bloc Party’s much anticipated third album Intimacy arises from a backdrop of great personal transformation. But frontman and creative force Kele Okereke says his band is all the better for it, By Dan Rule.

Kele Okereke is like a pendulum. A conversation with the 26-year-old – in this instance via phone from Canada, where Bloc Party are touring – might be better described in terms of oscillating, hushed ebbs and loquacious flows. Like the schizophrenic musical worlds he’s rendered as the vocal and creative logician behind the London quartet, Okereke’s articulation darts from near-mute reservedness to sudden verbosity. Distractions threaten too, as fellow band members walk in and out, and the “very strange email, man, very strange”. But each time there’s an unreserved apology. “I’m gonna focus, man, I’m gonna focus!”

Enveloped somewhere between are the insights, the pearls of personal data.

“This wasn’t about rationale, or making some kind of point,” he says of Intimacy. “I was just going to write about what I felt moved by. I was only going to write about things that I was really emotionally attached to.” He falls quiet, second after uncomfortable second ticking by.

You see, for Okereke – who eventually breaks the silence with a long, uneasy sigh – the intimacy to which the album title refers lies only in the (still raw) past tense. “It transpired that all the songs ended up coming from a similar place,” he continues gloomily. “They all ended up being about my break-up, and really, what is more powerful than a break-up?”

Intimacy’s predecessors – 2007’s A Weekend in the City and 2005’s lauded debut Silent Alarm – drip with an unreserved candour. Where Weekend spliced personal reflections into a heavily conceptual social commentary on life in contemporary London, Intimacy’s heavily synthesised, guitar-lashed cuts do away with premise altogether. The album’s impassioned lyrical sketches are anchored only by intuition, and personal expression. It’s written all over tracks like the static-shrouded Trojan Horse, which sees Okereke weave the tiny nuances and details of a relationship into an abrasive, noise-soaked vista. “You used to take your watch off when we made love,” he croons. “You used to close your eyes when we kissed goodbye.” One Month Off, meanwhile, has the singer in a heartbroken rage. “I can be as cruel as you,” he spits, “fighting lies with lies.”

“We just didn’t have any preconceived ideas,” offers Okereke, lightening up a little. “We had to respond really intuitively to what was happening, it was like the songs could have gone anywhere. “As the principle songwriter, that’s been the point I’ve really been trying to get to. When you’re not going in there with any expectations or rules, it’s like the sky is the limit and you can do whatever you want. I found it a very liberating way of working, you know. You’re only really constrained by your imagination.”

Bloc Party’s choice to rush-release Intimacy digitally in late August – almost two months before physical release – rose from a similar mindset. For Okereke, who reveals the band only received final masters two weeks before initial release, the decision was far more personal than business-minded.

“It was completely reactive to how we did the second record,” he says. “By the time A Weekend in the City came out, it seemed really removed from where I was as a person. A lot of those songs were written, lyrically, at the end of 2005 and so I wasn’t really feeling the subject matter at all anymore. Then having to do press and talk about it for six months after that kind of ruined it for me.”

There’s little potential for stagnation in the band now. Indeed, it’s been a time of great change for Bloc Party, who originally formed after Okereke and guitarist Russell Lissack met at the end of high school in 1999. As well as Okereke’s newly single status, bassist Gordon Moakes became a father. Intimacy also sees the band’s current record deal expire, leaving Bloc Party, for all intents and purposes, free agents.

But according to the ever-erratic Okereke, it’s nothing to be feared. For him, change – personal or otherwise – only fuels creativity. “I feel like these three records work really well as a tryptic or something,” he says. “When we come back, we have to come back with something from somewhere completely different.

“It’s going to be quite a challenge,” he pauses, his voice suddenly rising into a rare chortle of self-deprecating laughter.

“But luckily for us we’re just such great musicians that I’m sure it won’t matter.”

Intimacy is out now via Shock.

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