After four long years of uncertainty, speculation and expectation Bloc Party have finally returned. So what’s the result of their numerous side-projects and so much time apart? Rather than the often expected return to the heady sound of Silent Alarm, as usual the four-piece have taken the jump on us. Four is an unpredictable, confrontational and enjoyably evasive fourth album.
Their shift to a more aggressive tone is immediately obvious with tracks “Coliseum” and “We Are Not Good People”, amongst others, featuring levels of fast riffing, heavy distortion and even screaming not seen on previous Bloc albums.
While these more aggressive, rockier songs are good, headbanging fun (check Russell’s video game noodling solo on “Kettling”) they move the band towards a sound that’s somewhat indistinguishable from countless other rock bands. Bloc Party have always been strongest when their wiry, angular riffs and Kele’s distinct vocals could be clearly heard.
Indeed the familiar limb-flailing, post-punk sound is still a strong presence particularly on “V.A.L.I.S.”, “Team A” and jangly first single “Octopus”. And enjoyably they still provide those snapshots of reassuring clarity that they do so well. Kele’s insistence on “Day Four” that ‘the city’s here for you’, echoed by the sweetly soaring outro and makes you feel that in that moment everything’s right with the world. There’s that familiar sense of celebration too when Russell’s clangy guitar jumps back in for the final chorus of “Truth” and rattles joyfully around under Kele’s ooh-oohs.
It’s also a more mature album. Where the past two releases dived neurotically inwards, Four sees the band gain a little perspective on life. While the usual themes of anguish, distrust and resentment are here – ‘I’m gonna ruin your life’ – as though Kele runs from one ruinous, unfulfilling relationship to the next, it’s offered with a pinch of salt.
Take, for instance, the vignettes, cryptically interspersed between songs. The heartfelt “Real Talk” in which Kele begs to be shown ‘the sign’ and end his wandering ways, is followed by a short clip of the frontman making dry puns on the word "breast". Was he just singing about his very personal feelings then? Is he just joking? You’ve little time to ponder though as in a second you’re swept away by the Led Zeppelin stomp of “Kettling”.
Then there’s the grab bag of styles, from southern blues and indie dance to verging on hardcore. Add Kele's regularly obscure lyrics and you get an even more perplexing mix. It all comes across as a bit of fun, as though they’re not taking themselves and their problems too seriously anymore.
So while they might have missed with some of the rockier tracks the overall effect of these sudden, jarring shifts in gear throughout the album is pleasantly challenging. Many bands attempting the same would have turned out an incohesive mish mash. While Four treads this line finely, I think it shows a band mature and confident enough in their creative abilities that they don’t mind mixing things up and playing with expectations.
One song in particular stands out for this reason: “The Healing”. The second last track is a more refined, more assured version of some of the overblown ballads the band have previously attempted. But it has a different dynamic. The steady beguiling groove and R&B-like vocals offer a possible hint of what we might expect from the group in the future. But then again, Bloc Party do nothing so well as keep us guessing. That’s exactly what makes their long-awaited return so satisfying.
Review Score: 8.0 out of 10