Being under no illusions, the past couple of years have been tumultuous for Bloc Party. Yet from somewhere out of a bleak and silent wilderness, through a hiatus, multiple side projects and the media baiting “break ups”, they’ve drawn a canvas of inspiration and ideas and named it Four.
It’s a pertinent number: this record is the alternative four-piece’s fourth album, four years on (you get the gist) from their previous, brave experiment: 2008’s Intimacy – criticised most for its subordination of talented pair Gordon Moakes (bass) and Matthew Tong (drums). But boy how times change (more of which to come).
If there’s ever one thing that stays the same, though, it’s that Bloc Party are a divisive entity. There are the outsiders, longing for another Silent Alarm (or at least, for them to step out of the shadow of their critically-lauded debut) and the passionate fans that remain ever so loyal, spurred on by their band’s admirable determination and willingness to enter a recording studio and come out sounding intentionally unlike Bloc Party (whatever that’s supposed to sound like).
Four does well to appeal to both sides. While it manipulates and evolves their music from the past, onto new, dazzling terrain, it’s also almost retrospective in its approach. If you were one who fell out of love with Bloc Party, you’ll be falling back in. Gone, for better or worse, is the machinery: the synths, the electronic, the house-beats of One More Chance. Back in are the jagged guitars, the funky basslines and the frenetic drumming, which means a more distinct involvement for Moakes and Tong (only this time it’s in part an ode to the sentimentalities of grunge and metal). If there is one word to describe Four, the word is riff.
Bloc Party are a band that have always worn their diverse influences on their sleeve, and Four’s fabric is clearly made of Rage Against the Machine, Death From Above 1979 and Queens of the Stone Age, while Alex Newport’s raw production ensures proceedings are loud but never overcooked.
Kettling is reminiscent of Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins, while We Are Not Good People is, dare it be said, close to Biffy Clyro fare. However, it’s in some slow burners where Four really comes alive, in Day Four and The Healing – with beautiful, soothing guitars complementing frontman Kele Okereke’s swooning vocals. Real Talk is, too, an intriguing beast – a song driven by an addictive drumbeat, complete with banjo and studio talk (tongue-in-cheek adhering, literally, to Kele’s promise that Four would sound like “four guys in a room”).
The stand out performance, both brutal and restrained, is from lead guitarist Russell Lissack. Always genuinely inventive, he shines regardless of the pace or intensity required of him. It all means that Four is wonderfully awkward and abrasive, an unadulterated rock record from unified creative minds – those last three words the most important ingredient of all.
For many fans, following so much uncertainty, Bloc Party’s reformation would have been enough to put smiles on faces, but the fact they continue to make powerful, affecting music in their own post-punk, progressive manner adds extra satisfaction to this unfolding fantasy. Four years ago, who knew what they had left to give. Just look at them now. God bless Bloc Party.
Watch the album trailer: