After a near three-year hiatus, Bloc Party are back with their fourth album, the imaginatively-titled Four. And after being out of the game for a while, Kele Okereke & co. sound angry – which is a good thing.
The four-piece were hailed as the saviours of indie-rock after blistering debut Silent Alarm in 2004, and while follow-up albums A Weekend In The City and Intimacy certainly had some cracking songs and showed the band developing their sound, neither truly evoked the passion and sheer surprise with which Silent Alarm grabbed our hearts and minds.
The band split different ways in October 2009; with Okereke leaving to explore a solo career, and Gordon Moakes forming the superb Young Legionnaire alongside yourcodenameis:milo frontman Paul Mullen , it was doubtful we’d see the return of Bloc Party – yet here they are again, as if out of nowhere, with a blistering collection of songs that immediately sound like a band enjoying themselves.
That’s not to say that the album is a joyful skip in a park full of indie bobs and disco beats – there’s a dark streak that runs throughout the album, with Bloc Party sounding heavier than even before. Album opener So He Begins To Lie is a gorgeously unsettling track with a Super Mario-esque riff rolling into a chorus that sounds like a castle burning down. 3×3 then hurtles along like a locomotiv bound for the gates of hell, with conductor Kele wailing in simultaneous terror and ecstasy. If you bought this expecting the hand-held tweeness So Here We Are, the openers are more of a punch in the face.
The dust bowl bar intro of Coliseum tumbles into a dirty brawl of a riff with Okereke yelling ‘pain is holy’ like a prayer to the gods of metal, while closer We Are Not Good People is a slice of pure steel topped off with a true rock star solo from Lissack. Kettling – a tale of last year’s riots – channels ’90s grunge and is a spectacular call to arms, the sound of a band doing exactly what they want, without hours of post-production.
It seems pedantic to say it, but Four is not so much a cohesive album as it is a collection of songs that show what Bloc Party are capable of. There are tracks that show metalheads that a great riff doesn’t need to be eight minutes long, and you can even sneak some tender vocals in to season the dish.
The softer tracks on the album will delight fans of more recent material, and show the band’s knack of being able to combine sentiment, melody and rhythm in a tight package.
The effortless breeze of Truth blasts away the tight-trousered competition whining about being ignored by that special someone, with Kele declaring ‘I am yours now, respectfully’ while Lissack delivers a truly memorable guitar melody alongside driving rhythm; the ‘Woo-hoos’ shamelessly confirming it as a classic pop song.
Lead single Octopus is driven by Russell Lissack’s call-and-response guitar effect, with Okereke’s playful vocal line sticking around for days, and retains their edge of alt-cool, while the dance-floor delight of
V.A.L.I.S., a pure slice of unadulterated glee as Kele yelps “You’ve gotta show me the way” over an infectious vocal refrain from Moakes, while Real Talk sounds like a Californication-era Chili Peppers track with touching vocals.
Okereke, in particular, sounds more confident on this record – after giving himself time alone, to grow, he sounds more comfortable with the love and pain he speaks of throughout.
In criticism, the fact that the album experiments with a number of genres means that it won’t please everyone. A fair few fans – the younger ones especially – may find that the harder tracks leave them wondering why people are moshing when they were only expecting a playful bounce.
The album doesn’t necessarily work as a stand-alone piece, with angry tracks like Coliseum making way for V.A.L.I.S., a shift of tone extreme enough to raise an eyebrow or two. And a couple of tracks seems there to make up the numbers, an oddity given that it’s not a thematically-driven album.
Despite the confusion Four may cause, Bloc Party sound like they’re enjoying each other’s company again, and making the type of music they want to. Four is the band effectively proclaiming: “This is us, hope you like it’ – a band, and their fans, can’t ask any more than that.