Review Summary: I'd pay for music this good any time.
It is my belief that every music fan has a debut album released by a British alternative band in the last decade that they hold a significant attachment to. For many it’s Interpols ‘Turn Out the Bright Lights’; for some it’s Arctic Monkeys sarky ‘Whatever people say I am’. One friend insists that Maximo Parks ‘A certain trigger’ trumps them all, while another feverishly endorses the Kaiser Chiefs first release. That these bands all descended into mediocrity following these debuts is irrelevant – those debut albums are held in a rosily tinted light and will forever remain special to the listener.
Silent Alarm is my special album. It is the first album I bought with my own money, the album I used to listen to when I was mopey about girls, the album I listened to to get sufficiently hyped for parties, the album I had in the background whilst writing essays. And yet the law of diminishing returns has yet to rear its ugly head; spinning Silent Alarm today arouses the same old sense of excitement as well as conjuring those heady times of my early adolescence.
In a way, it’s hard to tell if my outright adoration of the album is based on nostalgia or on its genuine musical merit. However listening to it now I believe the latter is the case. From the no-holds-barred opener ‘Like Eating Glass’ (and, really, you’d have to back to Sonic Youths ‘Daydream Nation’ to find a rock opener as exhilarating as this one) to the disconsolate ‘Compliments’, the album never fails to stun. On tracks like the rousing ‘Helicopter’ and the reasonably well-known ‘Banquet’, Kele Okerekes urgent, pleading vocals are complimented by propulsive drumming courtesy of the outrageously talented Matt Tong. The guitar lines are as angular as angular can be, while the bass thumps along perfectly, adding touches of groove to proceedings. Bloc Party function as a unit exceptionally well, whether they’re languishing in the second-hand smoke of the morning after (a la Bluest Light) or head-over-heels over a romantic partner (This Modern Love), and this makes it feel like a ***ing BAND record, not a showcase of each member individually.
In essence, I believe one of the reasons Silent Alarm holds me in thrall to this day is captures exactly how it feels to grow up. The obvious teenage angst of the opening track (‘I can’t eat/ I can’t sleep’) is foiled by the twentysomething confusion of the closer (‘We sit and we sigh and nothing gets done/So right so clued-up, we just get old), and the moments in between chronicle the dejection, joy, activism, frustration and fleeting moments of contentment in between. The musical background always compliments the lyrics – the maudlin feel of ‘Compliments’ is aided and abetted by its trip-hop-esque nature. Silent Alarm is an album one can empathise with at any age.
It is worth mentioning that while Silent Alarm was the first album I adored, its follow-up ‘A weekend in the city’ was my first musical disappointment. Bloc Party have never come close to capturing the essence of what makes Silent Alarm so wondrous. But in a way, that only adds to the mystique the album holds and makes it all the more special. In a time when good British Indie albums were popping up left right and centre, this one trumped them all.
‘What are we coming to, what are we gonna do’