2005 – Wichita – 50 mins
It's the music press' biggest cliché that every year a handful of bands are championed as the flag-bearer for the 12 months ahead. And there's usually one at the top of the bunch. In recent years we've had Coldplay, The Thrills, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, Scissor Sisters and others. But a cliché is only a cliché because there's an undeniable, boringly consistent truth at its core. In this case, it's that certain bands have fired warning that they can do the walk as well as the talk. Step up...Bloc Party.
Edgy and thrillingly atmospheric, 'Silent Alarm' is evidence that Kele Okereke (vocals/guitar), Russell Lissack (guitar), Gordon Moakes (bass/vocal) and Matt Tong (drums) don't just walk the walk, they sprint it. Comparisons with Franz Ferdinand, while valid, are ultimately misleading. This isn't as instantly accessible as FF's debut, and it certainly needs more work. But it's more layered, its gems are less obvious, and in many ways it's more rewarding. And the early signs are that this London four-piece aren't nearly as affected as their Glaswegian peers often appear. This is the iceberg to Franz Ferdinand's Titanic.
Perhaps the best thing about 'Silent Alarm' is that it takes you down unexpected paths. Or, rather, alleyways. Sometimes it's spooky, occasionally it's stirring, and it's always interesting. Where other bands would have opted for the street lit commons, BP take a more circuitous route. It's darker, and it's often disjointed, but there lies the fun.
'Silent Alarm' also shows that Bloc Party have magpie senses when it comes to filtering influences. There is a distinctly 1980s feel to lots of this, but it's good 1980s, the kind that recalls the likes of The Cure, The Police, The Jam, as opposed to...well, let's not. The swirling guitars are often mesmeric, the rhythm section is simply scorching, and the darting targets in the songs give the whole thing a feeling of originality which is unmerited. Sneaky.
Of the band itself, Okereke's voice is perhaps the biggest irritation, simply giving more muscle to the worst aspects of Damon Albarn's Cockney-coated chirp. But there are other foibles. Not for the first time a band has felt compelled to overdo it. 13 songs is almost always too much, with the result that at least three if not four songs fall though the cracks. Here is no different. For all its distinction, and make no mistake this is an outstanding album, it still has its flab.
But even for a debut, 'Silent Alarm' is remarkably self-assured. You can still here glimpses of a band trying too hard too soon to carve out their own identity, but Bloc Party shouldn't be shot down for eagerness. Their roadmap looks as interesting as just about anything else around; hopefully the next leg of the trip isn't too far off.
Tracklisting: Like Eating Glass - Helicopter - Positive Tension - Banquet - Blue Light - She's Hearing Voices - This Modern Love - Pioneers - Price of Gas - So Here We Are - Luno - Plans - Compliments