Album Review: Bloc Party – Four
Of all the indie-rock bands that emerged in the early noughties, Bloc Party seemed like one of the few destined for genuine longevity. While most of their competitors were content to go with the flow, soundtracking messy nights out amid bouncy, optimistic indie-pop, the London group were more concerned with exploring the darker side of modern living: the desperation and danger beneath the brave faces and glossy surfaces. Silent Alarm was a towering debut which worked so well because it genuinely resonated with its audience, musically captivating listeners while also giving voice to the dejection bottled up inside many of them. Yet despite the considerable heft of their music, Bloc Party still fell into that classic trap of the indie world: being unable to escape from the shadow of their debut. Their subsequent albums aren’t without their fair share of classics (it’s hard to deny the likes of I Still Remember, Talons and Waiting For The 7:18), but the group haven’t quite turned heads like they did in 2005.
But now, following a four-year hiatus, they’re back to prove that there’s life in this party yet. And with Four, that point has definitely been proven. After the processed textures of 2008’s Intimacy, Four finds the group reconnecting with the sheer thrill of a back-to-basics live attack. Excesses are stripped away and replaced by the return of garage-rattling guitars, while their previously well-polished edges are roughened by the inclusion of studio chatter and an unfussy production tone. In addition, the break seems to have recharged the band’s mojo: there are moments of real chemistry oozing through more than a handful of songs on here. Lyrically, Kele Okereke still suffers from the occasional stumble, but during the numerous ballads on offer here, he sounds much more comfortable – and indeed, honest – as a songwriter than ever before. It takes real skill to make lyrics as simple as “I am yours now / Respectfully” sound genuine but not saccharine. And yes, he can still bellow like a bastard when he wants to.
First single Octopus strengthens with repeated listens, sounding akin to a less fiery, more wiry cousin of Banquet, and the Strokesy shuffle of Real Talk exhibits some of Okereke’s finest falsetto work to date. The wonderfully breezy V.A.L.I.S., meanwhile, is as poppy as anything the group have ever written: all handclaps, sparkling melodies, and a delightfully simple yelper of a chorus. Elsewhere, however, the springy indie flavours are moved aside to favour a much more aggressive sound. Okereke and guitarist Russell Lissack crank their amps numerous times here with pent-up fury, channelling their forces into snaking riffs (So He Begins To Lie) and punishing walls of sound (3 x 3). Several of these heavier attempts are pulled off surprisingly well, with all members uniting to wield destructive power in Kettling’s crunching cataclysm. Unfortunately, things don’t always work out quite so well. Coliseum attempts to weld a Grounds For Divorce-esque blues opening to a thrash which borders on metal, resulting in an unpalatable mess, while closing track We Are Not Good People reaches for a final two-finger salute, but ultimately fails to convince.
Still, beyond a handful of weak individual songs, the biggest gripe with the album is that it’s the only Bloc Party record so far which feels as if it has no real agenda to set, nor a focus point to circle. After exploring despair in the face of modernity (Silent Alarm), paranoid dislocation (A Weekend In The City) and the ins and outs of relationships (Intimacy), Four is by far the band’s least cohesive album, in both style and sound. Sure, it’s fair enough that the band can make an album in which they cut loose and see what comes naturally, and taken independently, a good selection of these songs are fairly strong contenders in the band’s canon. But in the wake of such purposeful records, this one can’t help but feel a little unsubstantial and scattershot. Don’t be completely put off: Four is a good album, it really is, and it makes for an engaging listen. If this review were to employ a ten-figure rating system, then this record would nicely crack a solid seven; but as it stands, it’s just a little too uneven to merit four-out-of-five.
“You gotta show me the way!”