Let’s set the scene. It’s 2005, a year on from Franz Ferdinand’s international storm following their release of ‘Take Me Out’, and London is in the midst of a post Libertines lul. The country is aimlessly riding a wave of one-hit-wonder imitations attempting to fill the Doherty shaped void whilst The Strokes rule the roost on the other side of the pond. Indie fans yearn for something new, something innovative and forward-thinking, something that smacks them in the face with a fresh sense of urgency and wake up the slumber of the scene. They just don’t know when it’ll happen, or where it will come from. Enter Bloc Party’s ‘Silent Alarm’.
Now rewind slightly. It’s 2003 and a young Kele Okereke attends a Franz Ferdinand gig. He gives a copy of ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ – Bloc Party’s debut single recorded and released earlier that year – to Franz frontman Alex Kapranos and, more importantly, the natural predecessor to the legendary John Peel himself; BBC’s Steve Lamacq. The single receives considerable airplay from Lamacq and spurs a second single – Pixies inspired ‘Banquet’ – to be released. A considerable buzz surrounds the band and there are tentative high expectations for the inevitable upcoming full-length release. All of a sudden, Bloc Party seems poised to be the next band to ‘do a Franz’.
And do a Franz they did. Although more in terms of success, than sound. The album aggressively rejects the multitude of premade comparisons to other bands on the scene. It refuses to be pigeonholed into one genre, Kele himself described the album as “technicolor” and he’s not wrong. Several songs here blend sublime indie guitar hooks with dance style beats and urgent yelping vocals, such as ‘Luno’ and would-be hit single, ‘Helicopter’. Others, such as ‘Blue Light’ utilize gentle melodies and a slower pace to give the album a breather from the rush of its more upbeat tracks; in a 2013 interview about the band’s retrospective tour of the album that year, Kele described playing Silent Alarm live as a “work out”. The same can be said for the listener’s experience, as even within the calmer moments of the album there’s a palpable sense that Silent Alarm is pushing forwards, both in pace and musical innovation.
There’s no surprise then that during the writing of the album, founding members Russell Lissack and Kele Okereke looked to modern dance music for inspiration when so many acts were looking backward and attempting a modern spin on the sounds of the ’70s and ’80s. It was this blend of dance beats with the post-punk spirit of bands like The Cure that managed to carry Silent Alarm into its own little corner of the musical soundscape. Listening to the album today it’s easy to dismiss it as a relic of the past, something no longer relevant to modern music. While it is true that the musical skyline has received a vast renovation and rejuvenation in the 15 years since it was released, the album’s original strengths – a unique blend of influences and fast-paced sound – keep it feeling fresh and alive for those who are willing to dig past the dated indie hooks and riffs.
Article by Elliot Gittins