Bloc Party’s management was done by the same people who managed Embrace, so, after being intrigued by hyperbole and early singles, I got sent Silent Alarm pre-release, and listened to it over Christmas 2004. Played quietly, late at night, it reminded me of Disco Inferno somehow, shorn of the sample-crazy genius which marked that band out as something utterly extraordinary. Played louder, the rhythm section revealed themselves as a hell of a unit, the guitarist as something a little more textural than the common-or-garden ‘angular’ post-punk revival numpties who were popular with NME at the time. And the singer? He reminded me of Luke Sutherland from Long Fin Killie; at his best, a sensual centre of the maelstrom.
Looking back from eight years on, Silent Alarm now feels flawed; over-stuffed, over-long, a victim of its own self-importance, as manifested in Kele Okereke’s lyrics, which somehow became even more pompous and ridiculous on the band’s second record, A Weekend in the City. (Their website at the time described them not as a band, but as an “autonomous unit of un-extraordinary kids reared on pop culture between the years of 1976 and the present day.” Of course.) But there’s still an excitement that manifests when I put it on these days; a memory of youth, of urgency, or feeling that something is desperately, hopelessly important eve though you don’t know exactly what. I think, at the time, as a 25-year-old, I was already a little too old to be taken in fully, but the memory of past passions is a powerful thing.
So despite the fact that it’s about three songs too long and ludicrously self-serious in tone, Silent Alarm is also thrilling; as well as the obvious post-punk and mid 00s indie signposts, there’s a big bite of “Airbag” by Radiohead running through Bloc Party’s sonic aesthetic of cacophonous, tumbling drums, tactile basslines and lightning guitars, pushing them further into genuine modernism than many of their unashamedly retro peers. So Russell Lissack’s guitars swerve from the spiky signature of post-punk to a keenly emotional, effects-laden futurism, while Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong together make a furiously propulsive and hysterical rhythm section which prevents Silent Alarm from ever seeming anything less than utterly contemporary.
It would be easy to take Bloc Party as all aesthetic, all bluster, and little heart. But that bluster combines with something beautiful on three occasions – “Blue Light”, “This Modern Love”, and “So Here We Are” offer tantalising glimpses of genuine emotion (still driven by too-fast rhythms which prevent that emotion ever seeping into the kind of mawkish sentimentality of Coldplay, for instance), but the likes of “Price of Gas”, “Plans”, and “She’s Hearing Voices”, whilst exciting to me all those years ago, now seem gauche and clumsy. Such is the folly of youth, I suppose.