[16 July 2009]
What do we expect from a remix album? What is it supposed to do? Should it be just a restatement of the facts, the bare bones of the original work? Or should it go beyond that? When Bloc Party put out Silent Alarm Remixed, it was a statement. It was a promise that this little indie band wanted to be something more. It was bold, brash, and interesting. What made Silent Alarm Remixed so striking was how it seemed like more than just filler until album number two, as if it was its own separate, necessary being. It was a good remake of a great album, beyond what anyone had a right to expect, coming off like a bold statement from a fledgling band that had arrived fully formed, with all their promise out on the table. They weren’t holding anything back.
Today’s Bloc Party are still giving it their all—maybe they’re giving too much. If Intimacy tried just a little too hard to be “deep”, at least it was a genuine effort. But Intimacy Remixed feels like an unnecessary album for a band that always wanted to be essential. It somehow strains the vibrancy and power out of Intimacy like a sieve. Some tracks come off better than others—“Talons”, one of the last remixes from Intimacy producer Paul Epworth’s Phones pseudonym, is a brutal beat and a vibrant sample that stands fully on its own. The dreamy Armand Van Helden remake of “Signs” is another highlight, perhaps because it sounds so distanced from the “So Here We Are” retread of the original.
It was that feeling of uncontrollable energy, the unstoppable force of Silent Alarm that periodically made Intimacy memorable (most notably on the brilliant “Mercury” and “One Month Off”). But as a third album, it had to be more than memorable. And to justify a series of remixes, it had to leave us both wanting more and needing less. Instead it felt heavy, forced, and its remix seems even less essential. Somehow, the more Bloc Party try to experiment, the more formulated it all feels. Intimacy was the most electronic this band have ever been, but it still seems miles behind the boldness of Silent Alarm. Tracks like “Mercury” or “Trojan Horse” somehow sound edgier in their original format than in their stylized, cut-up remixes. So why remix them at all?
Intimacy Remixed is an okay album; it has its brief and brilliant moments (that “Signs” remix in particular). But overall, it’s never more than average. And when did Bloc Party ever settle for “average”? Even at their most clumsy, they were at least trying. But maybe that’s not a fair claim to make. Intimacy Remixed isn’t really Bloc Party’s album after all; it’s as much property of the remixers as the band. But it’s still derived from their music, and yet it only serves to make that music less engaging, less meaningful. Bloc Party will never be terrible—they’re too clever, too sincere, too invested in their own legacy and their musical heritage. But those promises they made when they first stormed the scene, heart-on-sleeve, keep getting pushed back further and further. All the wordiness, the clumsy fumbling of Intimacy Remixed, even at its best, can never compare to something like the frantic yelps of “Banquet”, nearly half a decade ago. “I’m on fire!” Kele Okereke once sang. Now he just seems cold.