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Keeping it vague: Bloc Party front man Kele Okereke came out of the closet last year. But the band's latest release still eschews sexual labels--and it works.





IN AN ERA WHEN CELEBRITY gay weddings are respectfully splashed across the covers of supermarket tabloids, it may seem odd that an outspoken young rocker would still pussyfoot around his sexual orientation. Yet more than a year after he quietly came out in the London newspaper The Guardian, that's what Kele Okereke, lead singer of Bloc Party, is doing on the band's most recent release, Intimacy.

He has his reasons. Born to Nigerian parents and raised strictly Catholic, the forces that shaped Okereke into an opponent of racism and class warfare also inhibited him in going public about his sexual orientation earlier. More important, he said, he doesn't want to be marginalized. It's understandable that he'd take his cues from Morris sey, who has been playing coy about what he does and with whom since the Smiths, and that legacy of silence, shared by countless gay artists of his generation, still casts a long shadow over pop culture.

Early Bloc Party lyrics were vague, but on the 2007 sophomore set, A Weekend in the City, Okereke became more political and personal. The ardor in the song "I Still Remember," for instance, was shared between two schoolboys. Intimacy lives up to its title by detailing love in myriad forms--from bliss to boredom and breakup. The album's 11 tracks include some of Okereke's most memorable lines yet, like "You used to take your watch off before we made love / You didn't want to share our time with anyone." But there are also occasional groaners--repeating "my Mercury's in retrograde" ad infinitum, with zero irony, almost sinks the single "Mercury."

Musically, the band remains primed to connect with mainstream alt-rock audiences, which is something few of its U.K. peers have achieved in America. Intimacy expands the experimentation that enriched Weekend-dubstep burbles under some cuts. But the tracks with the most immediate impact remain floor-fillers like "Ares," a barnstormer that rivals the Chemical Brothers' explosive energy.

As for the lyrics, which Okereke writes himself, they continue to avoid any clear gender demarcation. The golden hair and dirty hands he swoons over in "Halo," for instance, could belong to a man or woman. But instead of feeling closeted, it works. There are enough details to make each song vivid, but the underlying sentiments are so open-ended they speak to virtually anyone. So Bloc Party isn't waving a rainbow flag on MTV. Crafting a record that resonates with a diverse, inclusive audience is still a praiseworthy accomplishment.

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Author:Reighley, Kurt B.
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Nov 4, 2008
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