Bloc Party: Silent Alarm Live

Music Reviews Bloc Party
Bloc Party: Silent Alarm Live

For at least a little while in the mid-2000s, Bloc Party was one of the best bands on the planet. Fresh off of the release of their debut album Silent Alarm in early 2005, Kele Okerke and co. were thrust to superstardom in the U.K., eventually leading the indie British invasion of sorts stateside alongside Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, The Libertines and others, acting as the more intellectual and political act of the bunch.

Silent Alarm was immediately adored by fans and music journalists alike, simultaneously becoming one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year and one of 2005’s most successful, entering at number three on the British charts and going gold within 24 hours of its European release. Hell, on Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip’s viral 2007 single “Thou Shalt Always Kill; Bloc Party were listed as “just a band” alongside The Beatles, The Cure, Oasis, and more—at the time, it wasn’t a stretch to think that the London quartet was on the same trajectory as those other legends. For the first time in god-knows-how-long, one of the biggest bands in England was its best.

But Bloc Party could never quite recapture that spark. They released their criminally underrated second album A Weekend in the City, a record that was seen in (at best) a similar light to The Strokes’ Room on Fire in relation to their debut Is This It in 2007. The electronic left-turn of 2008’s Intimacy was met with even less enthusiasm, leading to a lengthy hiatus while Okerkele went solo as Kele in 2010 before reuniting for the disappointing “return to form” record Four two years later. Uber-talented drummer Matt Tong and bassist Gordon Moakes left the band soon afterwards. Their fifth release, Hymns was met with relative indifference in 2016.

So with 2000s nostalgia in full swing, Bloc Party decided to revisit their anthemic, now-classic debut, giving it the full album live performance, selling out venues across Europe and the U.K. almost immediately. Nevermind that Tong, who was responsible for so much of Silent Alarm’s sound with his impossibly frenetic drumming, and Moakes weren’t joining Okerke and lead guitarist Russell Lissack on the tour, it was still extremely exciting news; Bloc Party was back, playing their best album, wowing adoring crowds with hits “Helicopter” and “Banquet” alongside sing-along deeper cuts “Pioneers” and “Blue Light.”

Against this backdrop, it was almost a given that Bloc Party would release Silent Alarm Live to document the success of the tour. The live album attempts to recreate that energy for those of us not lucky enough to have been in Europe, Australia or New Zealand (though they are embarking on an American tour later this summer).

Recorded across six shows last October—including sets in Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Dublin and London—Silent Alarm Live is meant to sound like a single show, from the pulsating guitars of “Like Eating Glass” to the trip-hop atmospherics of “Compliments.” The tracklist arrives in the same order as the original release, despite the actual setlists performing the songs in reverse order, leading to a bizarre-sounding live album. “Compliments” is cut to make it sound like it was actually at the end of the set with a muted audience reaction at the beginning, while the slowed-down introduction of “Like Eating Glass” was built as if it was leading things off, rather than ending the show itself. Silent Alarm was a top-heavy record to begin with, featuring album highlights “Like Eating Glass,” “Helicopter,” “Positive Tension” and “Banquet” all in the first four songs, so it makes sense to format it this way, but knowing that this wasn’t how it was performed, it makes the whole live release sound a bit off.

With only a few extra guitar flourishes and drum fills added in, Silent Alarm Live doesn’t stray too far from the studio version. Okerke’s voice is generally on point throughout, but sounding flat and tired at certain points, particularly on parts of “Helicopter” and “Price of Gasoline.” The backing band is still sorely missing the generationally-great Matt Tong, and specific crescendos don’t hit as hard as they should (the epic ending of “So Here We Are” feels like it’s missing something), but it’s genuinely thrilling to hear live renditions of all of these songs once again. The hands-in-the-air drum and guitar build on “This Modern Love” sounds better than ever, while the crowd scream-along on the “SO FUCKING USELESS” line from “Positive Tension” is goosebump-inducing.

Silent Alarm Live isn’t an essential live album by any means, but it’s a gentle reminder of how great Bloc Party once was. They may have never reached these same dizzying heights again, but it’s fun to revisit perhaps the best album of the mid-2000s, one angular guitar riff at a time. The past decade has been extremely uneven for Bloc Party, but Silent Alarm Live allows them the victory lap they’ve long deserved.

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