Alex Dry reviews Bloc Party’s fourth album
I should firstly say that this review may be somewhat unreliable given that I am one of Bloc Party’s biggest fanboys. Yet perhaps this also means that I may be more critical than some because of my belief that they are capable of musical greatness. ‘Four’ however is unfortunately not going to bring the London four-piece recognition of any such thing.
After a hiatus that was taken following the 2008 release of ‘Intimacy’, an album which by most accounts underwhelmed its listeners, Bloc Party has returned apparently with all of their itches scratched. Kele made the solo dance record that he so desired. Russell Lissack appeared on stage with Ash, his favourite band, as part of their live tour and the other two did…whatever it is they do. Yet having seemingly come back refreshed and with a clearer identity of who and what they are as a band it is slightly unbelievable that they have created their most confused album yet. 2005 debut ‘Silent Alarm’ was a decade defining record and one of the finest albums of the new era of guitar based alternative music. Make no mistake, it is better than ‘I am a bird now’ by Antony and the Johnsons which for some reason won the Mercury award that year. It perfectly soundtracked the formative years of a generation with its frenetic mix of sleepy and emotional love songs and frustrated thrashes. It epitomised what being a teenager was like in the 00s.
Similarly ‘A Weekend in the City’ was a statement. It was an unmistakable lambasting of the world that only two years ago Kele et al. had been so excited about. It encapsulated the reaction of the average person to the levels of hate and fear in society. ‘Intimacy’ doesn’t have an overarching lyrical message in the same way, but was a clearly experimental offering – Bloc Party’s ‘Kid A’. But ‘Four’ is neither one thing nor the other.
There is no theme and no obvious mission statement. Kele, usually responsible for such elegant turns of phrase that perfectly depict a moment or a feeling, is suddenly responsible for such clangers as ‘Po po don’t f*ck around’. Equally there are a couple of tracks that are musically just as jarring and misjudged. See ‘Coliseum’, a smoky and shuffling blues number that is easily the worst song the band has ever written. ‘We are Not Good People’ aims at a rocky Queens of the Stone Age style riff but the rest of the song falls very short of any such ambition.
But sometimes, Four delivers. There are several songs that stand out and display exactly what it is that Bloc Party do well. Lead-off single ‘Octopus’ is arty and, to use the adjective most frequently employed in describing this band, angular, with the backing ‘Ooohs’ working excellently. Similarly the likes of ‘Truth’ and ‘V.A.L.I.S’ are as hauntingly beautiful as ‘Blue Light’ and ‘Sunday’. Even some of the heavier songs do work, particularly ‘So He Begins To Lie’. It seems therefore that Bloc Party has only faltered because they have not measured up to their incredibly high yardstick. One gets the impression that if, for instance, The Hoosiers had released ‘Four’ the critics would have been singing from a different song sheet. It’s good, but we know you can do better.