Revisiting Silent Alarm by Bloc Party

It’s no exaggeration to admit that Bloc Party are outside my usual wheelhouse by some distance. Combined, their first two albums are a reminder to set aside bullshit genre politics and recognise that quality echoes through the noise.

Bloc Party – an English indie-rock band, for want of a better descriptor – are now five albums into their career. Singer Kele Okereke has become a respected musical polymath whose DJ sets were as highly anticipated as his recorded work even at Bloc Party’s commercial peak.

And, to an indie outsider like me, Bloc Party was a moment. Their second album, A Weekend In The City, came out in 2007 and boasts two of my favourite songs by the band. ‘Hunting For Witches’ and ‘Uniform’ have stood the test of time.

But that peak, that Bloc Party moment – that was Silent Alarm. Released in early 2005 to widespread critical acclaim from titles I wouldn’t use to wipe my arse, it connected with me to an extent I could never have predicted.

Bloc Party’s debut album made a dent. NME gave it a 9/10 review before naming it damned near dead centre of its 100 Greatest British Albums Ever! list the year after its release. If that seems somewhat premature – and it does – then at least the record’s place on the 2005 Mercury Music Prize shortlist carries some sort of weight.

But the truth is the Mercury Prize and NME don’t have the pull to make me listen to an album no matter how hyped up they are about it. No, that was a job for happenstance, and happen it did. I went in with willing ears and an open mind, and I loved Silent Alarm from the word go.

Like all albums that catch one off-guard, it starts strongly. Gloriously arty opening duo ‘Like Eating Glass’ and ‘Helicopter’ quickly bring to light Bloc Party’s unusual execution of basic concepts like writing a total fucking banger. ‘Positive Tension’ is funky, yet satisfyingly unpredictable.

But my highlight in the mid-00s and all these years later was and is ‘Banquet’, a number 13 single in the UK charts. It’s a masterclass in song-craft, catchiness and groove. It deserved to be massive.

The rest of the record, though, is more of a challenge for me now just as it was then. Take away the edge that’s so prominent on what I consider to be the best songs on Silent Alarm and I’m left with a sound by which I’ve never been enthused.

The standard is obvious, however, so much so that I can say truthfully that I like Silent Alarm from top to bottom. Tentpole tracks like the superb ‘She’s Hearing Voices’, ‘Luno’ and ‘Price Of Gasoline’ stack it up, and the mellower tracks take nothing away from the overall piece.

Silent Alarm is first and foremost a triumph of stellar individual performances and seamless composition thereof. Okereke’s vocal is unique, almost haunting. Matt Tong’s drums and Russell Lissack’s stylish guitar provide a canvas like no other.

But I’m a bass guitar guy and Gordon Moakes’ bass on Silent Alarm is, I think, what hooks me. And hooked is the word. I hadn’t listened to this album for a decade; the first new listen was the first old listen all over again.

Silent Alarm came out on Wichita Recordings in 2005.

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Chris Nee
Editor