No one knows what Bloc Party are really up to these days. The ever-changing quartet have been divided on their current stance together since last year's well-received comeback, Four. Their horizon is clouded, with Moakes and Kele claiming that the London indie vets have a illustrious future ahead (although exactly when is unclear), Lissack giving a much more muted response, and Tong remaining wrapped in stony silence. If the worst comes to the worst and they once more bid the world adieu, here's our eulogy to one of the most iconic British bands of the 21st Century.
From the seminal post-punk magnum opus of Silent Alarm to the fizzing robotica of Intimacy, they've always sought to shake things up, never settling on one style for more than one record – or ever giving any indication they would. In fact, they rarely give any indication of anything. Notoriously tight-lipped and hyper-aware of their image (not to the extent they preen and peacock, but rather that they're adamant on cultivating a kind of aloofness), the only times we've glimpsed their true colours via the media is when the acid tongue of Kele rears it's apropos head. One of his most memorable quips was at Oasis' “inbred twins” expense: “I think Oasis are the most overrated and pernicious band of all time. They had a totally negative and dangerous impact upon the state of British music. They have made stupidity hip... Oasis are repetitive Luddites.” Ouch.
Regardless of their portrayal in the media, and despite inter-band squabbles/lack of inter-band squabbles, they've consistently churned out some of the most groundbreaking and iconic tracks of the past decade. Singles like 'Helicopter', 'Banquet', 'Flux', 'One More Chance' and 'Hunting For Witches' (among countless others) have aided in changing the face of British guitar indie, driving forth change with angular riffs, pop choruses, sheer lyrical poetry and masterful rhythms. It's not too much of a stretch to call Matt Tong the best British drummer of the century. They're fusing of mismatched styles revitalised the revival genre they helmed back in 2004/5, inspiring countless musicians. Even as their tastes diverged, and they ventured towards grimier, dancier territories, they instilled an originality into their brand of noise.
However, forgoing the importance of their chart-busting singles, they've got one of the most valuable, diamond-encrusted back catalogues you'll ever find. Here's our rundown of the best album cuts, B-sides and rare efforts.
There's been deep analysis at an academic level of Silent Alarm. Some claim a rampant political undertone, others praise it's dissection of modern culture and/or existential ideologies. Kele himself has stated that it's in part a reflection on his dissatisfaction with life in his early twenties. The debut's opener, 'Like Eating Glass', has especially been preyed on by scholars; Professor John Sutherland, while speaking to the Guardian, once noted Kele's fondness for Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, during his study of the track. It's one of the finest examples of the band's poignant, razor lyrics (though 'Price Of Gas' and 'She's Hearing Voices' are following close behind).
The exhilarating riff that instantly draws you in is a display of Lissack's haunting reverb-laced style, which although begins as part of a traumatic motorik, descends into a cataclysmic vortex of agony as the brutal ditty unfolds. Gradually, a yelp emerges from the jagged, dour mist; the unmistakable tones of Kele erupt into the greyscale, and that unforgettable icy mantra that ignites countless spinal shivers is finally delivered: “It's so cold in this house...”
Bloc Party's second LP, A Weekend In The City, is outrageously underrated. Succeeding their vital first full-length, it went on to receive hugely mixed reviews; retrospectively, many claim it to be even better than Silent Alarm. Essentially an examination of modern urban society – particularly London and Berlin – it serves as a critique of the worst elements of our culture and an ode to the most human parts. From the celebration of drunk love on 'Sunday' to the ravaging of a decaying bourgeoisie/loveletter to Less Than Zero on 'Song For Clay', it's a savage tour de force. From the aural suicide note of 'SRXT' to the frustration of 'Waiting For The 7:18', it's an emotional masterpiece. There are false steps in 'On' and 'Uniform', but they serve to heighten the rest of the album.
'Kreuzberg' embodies every strain of the record. It's simultaneously a glorious, twinkling paean to one of the most culturally significant cities in Europe, and also a heart-crushing lament of hollow twilight passion: “After sex/ the bitter taste/ been fooled again/ the search continues.” There's a numbness to Kele's version of love – he can't find the perfect fairytale ending he was promised (“What is this love? Why can I never hold it?/ Did it really run out in those strangers' bedrooms?”), but will search relentlessly, in a vain attempt to find that missing piece he know will never be there. If there's one thing Bloc Party can describe as their calling card, it's despair.
An oft-overlooked B-side, 'Idea For A Story' accompanied 'Mercury' upon it's release. Arriving alongside one of biggest jolts in Bloc Party's career, it helped show the legions that they were careening in a wild direction away from the guitar-based sounds of before. It's not particularly difficult to decipher – it's about HIV/AIDS – but where 'Talons', from the same sonic era, is about the terror of the condition, 'Idea For A Story' collates the rage of all those involved.
Against a lone, stark synth line and rickety drum machines, Kele croons with resentment: “There's a blizzard in the after-hours bars/ raining my way down the Strand/ who are these fags in their red bow ties, ruining it for the rest of us?” It's full of gorgeous visceral imagery and nods to Kele's personal experiences of LDN. When the cacophonous goth-house breakdown explodes, drum'n'bass beats pervade a myriad of earthquake bass synths; it lurches and looms with funeral-march solemnity, trudging forth into your mind with unrelenting terror. It's nothing like the sharp axes from their opening epoch, but it's magnificent proof that they've got a broad palette of talents.
Arguably the most overtly bellicose number they've ever sculpted, 'Ares' is a belligerent assault from start to finish. The wailing tocsin from Lissack incites an agitation, a speed-frenzied paranoia and a PCP fury; duelling beats from Moakes and Tong are feisty, tribal war drums – the kind to strike fear into your enemies. A popular reading of the track is that it's an urban battlecry for our tortured inner-city youth: “True say blood that when we ride we don't stop for nobody!” and “Wipe the blood off those knuckles/ spark it give me twos on that!” seem to fit that well. 'Ares' was one of the first times we got to grips with Kele's fascination for London's street lingo – amongst his drug talk (“Supermen and mitsi turbos/ speed, agility, super-strength!”) he namechecks sports brands and we get his first use of his beloved rudeboys. It's aggressive, in-your-face and imbued with a swaggering conceit that retro-Kele would've baulked at. It's unique, thrilling havoc.
Of course, the absolute crème de la crème of Bloc Party's history is 'This Modern Love'. There's never been any question about that. Somehow, it wasn't a single – though the remix was the final cut to be released from Silent Alarm Remixed – and has continued a firm fan favourite for almost a decade. The band have never captured the je ne sais quoi since (and they didn't prior), though not for lack of trying – 'This Modern Love' is a rare jewel that bands can only ever hope to craft. Fun fact: Kele manages to slip in calling his beau 'shorty' (“Well jump right in shorty, you can gorge away...”)
It's a consummate love song. Sparkling with xylophone flourishes and masterful bouts of emotive guitar from Lissack, it begins life reserved, with Kele's voice flicking left-to-right under a veil of static. As it wears on and the rhythm section injects a pulse, 'This Modern Love' expands infinitely into an anthem for potent honeymoon-phase affection. It's obsessive, it's impulsive – it's that crazy, all-encompassing love you never mind getting drowned by. Kele manages to deliver a nuanced performance of pure honesty, conveying a unique phase of love so completely, you'll be hard pressed to stay straight-faced. The final line just sums up the entire, immature feeling in a perfect way: “Do you wanna come over and kill some time? Throw your arms around me.”
Bloc Party have a vast array of superb songs to absorb and enjoy, there are weaker moments in their arsenal, as any outfit does, but the sheer sublimity of the rest overrides any glitches. Even B-sides such as 'Vision Of Heaven', 'Selfish Son', 'Skeleton' and 'Always New Depths' stand up against their prime cuts. They'll always be our beloved taciturn art-punks, irrespective of where they end up musically. Between Kele's distinctive pipes and knack for poetry, Lissack's command over his effects board, Moakes' rending bass plucks and the maestro sticksman, Tong, they are able to succinctly express complex ideas and emotions beyond compare. All four are incredible musicians, but only together are they Bloc Party.