Well this is certainly unexpected. We all knew that after a four year hiatus, Bloc Party had returned to the studio to record a new album. And we all knew that, if lead single Octopus was anything to go by, it would shun the band’s more recent electronic influences in favour of a more back-to-basics guitar sound. Which is sort of true. Except that on Four, Bloc Party ‘return’ to a sound they never really had in the first place and the results are both unexpected and exhilarating.
Opening number So He Begins To Lie starts with Matt Tong’s familiar tricksy drums, but as soon as the song’s monstrous riff begins it’s clear that this is a harder, faster Bloc Party than we are used to. On Four, Bloc Party largely put aside their icy stop-start dynamics and electronic flourishes for thick, pounding grunge style riffs. In fact only Octopus and Team A really recall the indie disco stomp of Silent Alarm.
Kettling, an examination of last year’s riots, sounds hard and unhinged while Coliseum begins with a curious faux-country introduction, before changing tact entirely and smashing you across the head with a muscular, metallic finale. Closing track We Are Not Good People is perhaps the most viciously frenetic thing they have ever recorded. Kettling seems to be channelling Biffy Clyro until guitarist Russell Lissack begins soloing like he’s auditioning for The Smashing Pumpkins. This is very much a good thing.
Fans of Bloc Party’s softer side shouldn’t be put off though as Four still contains plenty of slower, lovelorn tracks. Tracks like Day 4 and Truth are respectable continuations of Bloc Party’s wistful streak. In fact it’s the gentle pop of V.A.L.I.S. that is the album’s unexpected highlight, packing one of the band’s sweetest, catchiest choruses yet.
Throughout Four, Bloc Party are keen to remind listeners that they are ‘back’. Of course, its album number four, recorded after a four year hiatus and attempting to show that together the four of them are stronger than the sum of their parts. It’s already a bit heavy handed, but it doesn’t stop there. There is off-the-cuff studio banter between tracks to give Four a ‘live’ feel and even the album’s production reflects this.
Things are kept stripped down with overdubs and studio effects virtually nonexistent. This turns out to be something of a double edged-sword for the band. On the one had it keeps things feeling vital and energetic, but also leaves some tracks feeling strangely unfinished. The mix is murky with guitars sludging together on the heavier numbers and Kele Okereke’s vocal left somewhat buried. All too often things feel like a first-draft.
Four also suffers from a lack of true ‘high’ points. The quality is consistently strong, but even Kettling and V.A.L.I.S can’t compare with past standouts Like Eating Glass and The Prayer. Though Four never falters, it never truly takes flight either. Still, on Four Bloc Party sound energised once more. It’s good to have them back.