Wrought emotion and thematic evasiveness set the tone throughout Bloc Party’s Four, their return to the scene after as many years, which treads on Silent Alarm’s toes with a bigger, more opulent pair of shoes.
The album feels like a considered effort lacking the fresh appeal of Silent Alarm, but what it lacks in new-age-punch it gains in a complexity of structure; a deeper sound which illustrates a subtle revolution in musical optics. Their same strife is felt, made fresh through pulsating, choppy beats, tough vocals and succinct rhythm, peppering an album which always feels speedy.
‘3×3’ and ‘Team A’ feel classically involving with feasts of crescendos as intensity acts as Four’s one-figure-salute. Outro ‘We Are Not Good People’ unleashes a calculated and muscular rip-roar of glamorous rhythm and ferocious cymbals, telling of a pummeling angst the band seem yet to shake. More-so, their ‘fight’ becomes trademarked with this release, but specificities remain a ghostly undercurrent as lyrical exclamations never quite cut through the surface and translate clearly. I sense this is exactly how Kele Okureke would like it.
Still star of the show, the often coy leading man interrupts progress with vocal outbursts which tease; jovial mutterings and personal accounts which try and sell us Bloc Party’s inter personal skills. They end up surmising nothing more than the vague assertions made in the tracks themselves.
‘Truth’, ‘The Healing’ and ‘Kettling’ leave us unsure where the band are at in terms of congruous message; but I think this is the the intention throughout an album which constantly tricks you into a sentimentality somehow vague and intelligent.
Bloc Party’s return is restrained and pertinent equally.
Kele Okereke declared, during an interview with Life + Style, that the band wanted to make a record that “sounded like the four of us playing in a room.” This is certainly what they have produced and with the simple production and interjection of random snippets of in-studio conversations, it certainly feels as if we are listening at the door of a Bloc Party recording session.
Four is undoubtedly reminiscent of 2005’s Silent Alarm, yet the fresh purpose of their early post-punk aesthetic has somewhat mellowed. ‘Octopus’ skips along on a punchy beat and, if only for the seamless introduction of a banjo, ‘Real Talk’ is another highlight. ‘The Truth’ and ‘Healing’ are ballads as only Bloc Party know how to write them – lush and layered, Okereke’s screeching vocals gorgeously softened. ‘V.A.L.I.S’ is, for me, the undoubted standout track. Everything just fits – Tong’s choppy percussion, Okereke’s incomparable vocals, Lissack and Moakes’ perfectly complimentary guitars – all woven around punchy lyrics and a “sh-sh-sh-show me” chorus worthy of a 60s Motown quartet.
But as a whole, Four is equal parts brilliant and disappointing. The provocatively entitled ‘Kettling’ seems to barely chug along under the weight of an oppressive riff and, while Okereke’s vocals are as incendiary as ever, stale lyricism – “We smash the window/Popo don’t fuck around” – fails to convincingly capture the riotous energy that blazed throughout London in Summer 2011. ‘Coliseum’ lurches bizarrely between louche, back-room blues and riff-heavy screamo and ‘We are not good people’ brings the album to an anti-climactic, droning close.
Despite these weaknesses, Four represents a confident and unabashed return to form, sans their former penchant for electronic experimentation, but with all of the essential elements that make Bloc Party such a great band, intact.
Bloc Party conjure up images from my youth of scraggy haired hormone plagued blobs hopping and grinding against one another in Mrs Noon’s living room while I stood sniggering in a dark corner of my own perpetual angst. It has been seven years since those heady days of Silent Alarm and a four year hiatus since their last venture, ‘Intimacy’.
Bloc party’s Four is a return to those early years. Back to the gritty guitar riffs and wailing vocals for which they were lauded, along with that other half of the Bloc Party coin – the softer, more melody focused pop songs that show off the delicate side of the outfit.
The opener ‘So He Begins To Lie’ showcases what Bloc Party do so well, with juddering guitars, thudding drums and the town crier Kele floating his news over the top of it all. Flipping that weather worn Bloc Party coin over, on the other side you’ll find the softer ‘Real Talk’ with Kele crooning over intricate guitar lines that help propel the song forward to first floor heights.
‘Coliseum’ is the stand out track. From the bluesy guitar intro to the heavy riff, to Kele’s voice screeching out like a tawny owl on bath salts, it is simply the most interesting track on the album. Maybe because it is the only one which is a stark contrast to anything I have heard from Bloc Party before and gives us that window into the musical changes that have occurred as a band in those four years.
In a future dystopian nightmare world where only one record player is allowed per street, do I think this album would make it on the playlist? Probably not. It is more an album that would tap the listener on the shoulder at a party to say ‘Hey we’re Bloc Party remember us? Didn’t we meet at Mrs Noon’s house?’ before it proceeds to drink all the punch and pass out on the sofa for the rest of the night. You’ll be gone long before it wakes.