Bloc Party - Intimacy (***)
You've got to give credit to Bloc Party for making a real effort to progress their sound when Silent Alarms II and III would've sold them enough records to continue a lucrative career. But - and you knew there was one - third album Intimacy, like A Weekend In The City before it, is dominated by a sense of a band throwing a load of ideas together and hoping they'll stick, with only mixed results.
It's telling that the song that works best here is closer Ion Square, which uses insistent hi-hats and bass kicks over slow chord changes to give both pace and contemplation to a Silent Alarm-style building epic; but if Intimacy featured ten tracks like this, wouldn't we be chastising Kele and co for attempting to re-write that stunning debut album?
Two records later, Bloc Party haven't yet found a cosy fit that satisfies their need for evolution while retaining what made them stand out in the first place. Kele Okereke's lyrics, a sticking point on Weekend, continue to feel clumsy here, though his vocals are wisely mixed a little lower so as to be less obstrusive generally than the worst moments of that record. Yet, you can't help but feel it's not a good sign if a record is improved by passive attention to the lyrics. Musically, they're still trying to incorporate booming electronics into post-punk action, such that the intro to first song Ares sounds like a Prodigy breakbeat.
First single Mercury mercifully makes more sense in context than it did on its own, but as with other ambitious attempts here, its hyperactive drums and processed vocals impress only that Bloc Party have learned how to use a lot of new toys recently. It takes balls to add chanting church chorals to an indie-rock song in 2008, but Zephyrus still falls short despite the best efforts of Greg and his Orian singers. Throughout, Intimacy requires qualification: Better Than Heaven's ballistic guitar attack of an outro is thrilling but preceded by a tedious build-up, and the effect of Signs' tender story is minimised by ungainly verse lyrics.
Which leaves one track - the aforementioned Ion Square - whose only criticism is its familiarity. The song's disciplined rise sounds effortless, which brings the previous 37 minutes' fault into focus: credit Bloc Party for trying, but if they're struggling to attain the heights they once reached, it's because they're trying too hard.