Saturday, 6 October 2012
''Four'' Bloc Party - A Review
Just a couple of years ago, it seemed as though Bloc Party's future was in serious doubt. A polarized, mostly negative reception to third album ''Intimacy'' (which I'm obliged to say I thought was an electronic beauty- a daring acheivement that ranks ahead of it's predeccessor ''A Weekend In The City'') led to the band taking a break as Kele Okerere decided to pursue a solo project and further his electro ambitions while rumour spread that the rest of the band were auditioning lead singers to replace their frontman. Here they are though, four years later with their fourth record and united as the four original members of the band that created Silent Alarm in 2005; hence ''Four'', I suppose.
Speaking of Silent Alarm, it's very much back to basics for Kele and co. as they return to a traditional setup- its 2 guitars, bass and drums, make no mistake. Bassist Gordon Moakes remarked around the time of ''Intimacy'' that the band disregarded ''whether a song could be recreated live in concert in the same way as it would appear on the record'' and in some ways, ''Four'' seems like a direct response to that; these songs are made for a live setting, there's no room for the synths that dominated ''Weekend'' and the drum machine sound of ''Intimacy''. As the band return to their rock roots, they've also developed a taste for a heavier, grunge like sound, which can be traced back to Queens of the Stone Age and even Nirvana, of whom Okerere admits he listened to frequently during the recording process.
It works for the most part (sometimes not so much, which I'll get into later)- ''Kettling'' is the best example, a stomping guitar track with a singalong vocal line that will sound great live. Other highlights of are ''So He Begins To Lie'', an opener which demonstrates Russell Lissack's unquestionable ability on lead guitar and announces the arrival of the band in style, while ''Coliseum'' begins with a hint of ''Grounds for Divorce'' before paying off with a typical Bloc Party riff.
The best moments however, are when the band gets quieter, and focuses on intimacy over impact. ''V.A.L.I.S'' is a soaring ballad that recalls older tracks like ''Plans'', while ''Real Talk'' slows things down to showcase Kele's vocal, but the best song of the album is undoubtedly ''The Healing'', a masterful beauty that recalls ''In Rainbows'' era Radiohead, specifically tracks like ''Nude'' and ''House of Cards''.
It would have been a fitting closer, and a far better note to end on than ''We Are Not Good People'', which I can safely say is the worst Bloc Party song I have heard to date. A hardcore punk riff that simply does not suit the band combined with clumsy lyrics makes for an awful finisher and an underwhelming end to ''Four''. Another criticism of the record would be it's lack of direction; previous Bloc Party albums have all carried a certain message within them as a whole- ''Silent Alarm'' addressed modern British youth, ''Weekend'' took on terrorism and drug use, while ''Intimacy'' examined relationships. ''Four'' feels more like a random collection of songs- a very good collection perhaps, but one without a consistent meaning throughout.
In conclusion, however, it's great just to hear them again; a band that seemed near it's end only a short time ago now feels more united than ever, and more than anything, ''Four'' makes me excited for Bloc Party's future. So while ''Four'' may not be the album Bloc Party fans will have been hoping for, it makes me believe there is potential for another ''Silent Alarm'' in this exceptional quartet, and that's enough for now. Following the conclusion of ''Real Talk'', Kele can be heard joking ''Oh I was just talking about my feelings'', but I'm inclined to suggest that the evidence (''This Modern Love'', ''I Still Remember'', ''Ion Square'') points towards this being the very thing that makes for Bloc Party's greatest strength; their ability to connect with their audience and make moving, affecting music. So my message for next time is simple; less heavy, more heart.