I thought Bloc Party was done. I wasn’t alone in this thought; many people thought their time had passed. Bloc Party rose to fame in the early 2000s as part of Britain’s post-punk revival movement along with Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand and Razorlight. These bands were full of energy, electrified crowds and made British guitar rock relevant again. Unfortunately as the decade progressed, most of these bands faded away. Bloc Party’s third album, 2008’s Intimacy, ventured into feeble electronica. It wasn’t received well and within a year they went on a hiatus while the band members focused on their side projects.
I wasn’t expecting much from their newest album Four. First of all, often when bands return from a hiatus there is a lack of spark and creativity. I was especially hesitant because most of my interest had been lost with Intimacy. But Bloc Party has surprised and caught me off guard, in a good way. Within the first seconds of Four it is clear this isn’t going to be a cash-in album; this is going to be a full force rock record. The first song “So He Begins to Lie” comes in with distortion and guitars and, oh yeah, fast guitars. The second track “3×3” follows with thrashing motion. The timid electronica is long forgotten as the band is now embracing garage rock.
Many fans are going to want to compare this to their first album Silent Alarm because it is a return to the swift guitar precision that Bloc Party became known for. The major difference is that Four isn’t nearly as clean and slickly produced as Silent Alarm. While Bloc Party grew up with The Futureheads, Four is more inclined to their American counterparts The Strokes. This has to do with Four being recorded in New York City with producer Alex Newport, who previously worked with At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta. Newport added grunge into Bloc Party and helped them regress technologically into garage rock but keep their songs solid and complete with a new kind of energy.
They have tight precision with their instrumentation but are skillful enough to allow freedom in that exactness. The songs travel within themselves. The picking at the end of “Day Four” is utterly mesmerizing and is juxtaposed perfectly against the rowdy rock on “Coliseum.” The two best songs on the album are great examples of Bloc Party’s control over ordered chaos – sharp single “Octopus” and the schizophrenic “V.A.L.I.S.” which are swift and deliver a playful punch. These tracks also are the most reminiscent of the band’s early days with clear-cut dueling guitars.
The album isn’t perfect at all, however. There are times where I wish it had more consistency between tracks but I would have a post-mil band be diverse rather than stale. The biggest fault is it becomes clear that the weakest tracks are the slow numbers. Songs like “The Healing” and “Truth” come across as underdeveloped and bland. Their attempts at tenderness are untouched and seem like scraps left behind from Intimacy-era material. “Real Talk” keeps the guitar in front of this pretty ballad but its relaxed complexion just sounds so much better on stoner-punks like Real Estate than on Bloc Party. Is it a coincidence that these are the softest songs on the album? I don’t think so. Part of it has to do with lead singer Kele Okereke failing to connect at the emotional core. He sounds magnificent when belting it out but is missing something otherwise.
In the end, “We Are Not Good People” erupts with an anarchist’s vengeance blasting a hole in the closing minutes of Four. While the closer is eerily similar to Modest Mouse’s Moon and Antarctica closer “What People Are Made Of,” it is a powerful punt to end Four. Bloc Party has found a way to bring new life into a band that many people thought was dead. They are a welcoming surprise to spice up the summer.