Album Review: Bloc Party – Four

[Wichita / Frenchkiss; 2012]

It’s been four years since Bloc Party released an album; a significant amount of time considering that the band released their first three albums in a shorter span than that. In the interim most members went off to focus on other projects, both musical and personal, and it was never guaranteed that the band would return at all. But, still harboring a great deal of goodwill from the release of their debut album Silent Alarm, and a number of popular singles that have followed since, there was no way fans were going to let them go out that easily. Now Bloc Party return with Four, a name symbolic for a number of reasons: this is their fourth album, they have four members and the simplicity rings true with the sound of the album.

Directness appears to be their aim here. The songs are straightforward, and the voyages into new sonic territories that they started on Intimacy seem to have been forgotten about. Four is unquestionably a rock album, with guitarist Russel Lissack as its main guiding force. However, he’s often using a broader brush than usual, inserting riffs so huge that they block out the band’s talented rhythm section and often threaten to swallow songs whole. It’s a style that the band makes work on occasion, especially with Okereke putting in virtuoso vocal performances as he does on the album’s opening couplet of “So He Begins To Lie” and “3X3.” But this technique of throwing everything in tends to create a Deftones-lite sound, and the songs can end up sounding gaudy or over the top, especially when the songs have clumsy lyrics about last year’s London riots (“Kettling”), out of character screaming (“Coliseum”), or are unnecessarily tacked on to the end of the album (“We’re Not Good People”).

Fortunately, the heart and finesse that made Silent Alarm a timeless album has not entirely been diminished here. Bloc Party are regularly at their very best when producing their most emotionally vulnerable songs, and this holds true here with “Day Four” and “The Healing.” “Day Four” is the standout track on the album; a rare diversion from the snarling sounds that surround it on Four, the song finds Lissack and Okereke’s twinkling guitar interplay at full force, recalling Silent Alarm’s “So Here We Are,” and Okereke’s delicate falsetto is used to such an effect that it’s much more powerful and affecting than any of the more bombastic performances he puts in elsewhere on the album. When not indulging in speaker-busting riffs, Bloc Party’s trademark jagged and scratchy guitar sounds can also be found, most notably on “Octopus,” “V.A.L.I.S.” and “Truth,” all of which are rather simple songs, but are some of the catchiest the band has ever written.

At this point it seems almost impossible that Bloc Party will ever recapture the atmosphere and uniqueness of Silent Alarm, not least because Okereke seems determined to sing more despite having less to say, but mainly because the band are in a completely different space now. Four sounds like an album created by a talented band that finally got back in a room together after a long time apart, and just seemed to put together all the various ideas they’ve all had without stopping to think too much about them. It’s the sound of the band getting the last few years of separation out of their system. And, now that they have, it’s anybody’s guess as to what they’ll do next.