In its short lifetime, Bloc Party has shown an admirable willingness to turn its back on what fans want. The relatively lightweight post-punk songs on 2005's solid Silent Alarm nose-dived into paranoid darkness on 2007's underrated A Weekend In The City, written in the aftermath of London's 7/7 bombings. Weekend drew a mostly tepid reception, the kind that sends some bands scurrying to revisit past successes. If Intimacy is any indication, Bloc Party has only grown more antagonistic. Gone is the slick, guitar-heavy post-punk of the past; in its place is percussive, synthesizer-laden electronic rock with a predilection for disjointed rhythms.
Bloc Party showed its intentions in July with "Mercury," the grating-yet-catchy single from the then-unannounced Intimacy. (For now, the album is available only as a download; it's scheduled for physical release on October 21.) Anchored by thunderous beats and Kele Okereke's irritatingly repetitious vocal hiccups, "Mercury" embodies what the rest of Intimacy has in store. Sometimes it works (as in the opener, "Ares"), and other times, it misses the target entirely. (The stylistic train-wreck of "Zephyrus" is the album's interminable low point.) Only "Halo" explores straightforward guitar rock, and it's the only track that sounds familiar outright. The others have varying degrees of recognition, depending on how much Bloc Party tinkers with its style.
The changes become less jarring with repeated listens, but the album never quite coheres or hits a stride. With the exception of "Mercury," the band barely road-tested these songs—Bloc Party pulled a Radiohead by abruptly announcing Intimacy just a week before its release—and they seemingly suffer from studio myopia. In its cloistered walls, a track like "Zephyrus" can make sense, but maybe the harsh light onstage could have revealed its flaws. Bloc Party has a lot of ideas on Intimacy, but the band should have given itself more time to figure them out.