Anything Bloc Party say in public needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Indeed, in the months following the news of their hiatus – and the subsequent release of a Kele Okereke solo album, The Boxer – the band were dogged with rumours of whether the hiatus would become a permanent break-up; and then that Kele had left the group to concentrate on his solo-work. But after all the hoaxes, Bloc Party have emerged back into the limelight with the announcement of their imaginatively named Four.
The album name indicates the desired ‘back-to-basics’ idea that the band wanted after the somewhat under-appreciated and patchy A Weekend In The City and the rushed follow-up that was Intimacy. The history of Bloc Party, after all, has been one going steadily downhill since the widespread (and deserved) acclaim over Silent Alarm; an album which has stood the test of time as one of the great indie rock albums of the 21st century.
Such a sound could be heard with lead single ‘Octopus’; Lissack strumming out the classic Bloc Party erratic electronic jittery refrain while Kele sings over “wooh-a-wooh” chorus backing. This sounds more like a 2012 update of ‘Helicopter’. A poor man’s version of their early sound, yes, but it’s a start.
Yet, the rest of the album is somewhat more harder to figure out. Beginning with ‘So He Begins To Lie’, it’s clear that the album have a more rock-influenced direction, filled with brooding grunge melodies. In fact, the track finishes with a post-rock shoegaze-textured minute long outro. Last track ‘We Are Not Good People’ follows a similar tract of punk rock rather than the post-punk style of the Bloc Party of old, with Kele shouting over rumbling guitars and brutal head-banging drumming.
Even worse is ‘Coliseum’; it eventually becomes a frantic angry riot of noise which is actually quite enjoyable, but it’s beginning as a Delta Blues southern-rock monologue is of extremely limited appeal. So is ‘Real Talk’, which while fairly listenable, plods along at a constant trundle , sounding like a Red Hot Chili Peppers B-side.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however; on some of the tracks, the sound does manage to work. ‘3×3’ is a bit of marmite song, but with its urgent with a bass riff booming throughout the song whilst Kele opts for a wail throughout. ‘Kettling’ similarly may have superficial lyrics about last year’s London Riots, but the alternative rock grunge doesn’t drown the song in this case.
In reality, this is rawer and more guitar-based than Bloc Party have ever been. The electronic sound used ever more frequently by the band throughout its lifetime – as well as considerably by Kele in his solo work – is still there, but only a faint underlining of Four’s tracks. This is more reinvention than evolution.
The problem is its just a bit forgettable and slightly boring; something that could never be said of any of Bloc Party’s previous work, even with its flaws. Most of the songs are instantly forgettable, while none posses anything close to the past standout tracks such as ‘Banquet’, ‘I Still Remember’ or even ‘Mercury’.
Much is however saved with ‘Team A’, the stand out track of the album, that is the only one that comes close to matching the Silent Alarm-era creating a zig-zag of sounds with crashing drums, a punching bass and driven riff creating a song that couldn’t be more different than its near-namesake, ‘The A-Team’.
So the verdict? Bloc Party are back with a bang. It’s not the best bang though. The biggest problem lies, however, in the album’s distinct lack of comprehensiveness; Bloc Party excelled at creating solid style albums with good singles. This has neither really; and the album makes me yearn for the Bloc Party of old where electronic dance met post-punk met indie rock, which produced the infusions of ‘Like Eating Glass’ ‘Flux’ and ‘One More Chance’. That’s not to say the new Bloc Party is bad; it’s just not particularly good either. On closer attention, the album may be a grower, but for now its album – similar to the Strokes’ Angles – that finishes a somewhat disappointing comeback. It’s not quite a 4 for Four though.