Bloc Party are back, again. As a younger man they were the band that got me hooked on music and I lent my unwavering support to them throughout their difficult ‘this-is-not-Silent–Alarm-2’ period. It seems that the four years since their previous effort Intimacy have finally made the boys cave in and give people the guitar album they so desperately begged for.
Four years is a long time for a talented bunch of musicians to create a clutch of songs to win back the lost fans and re-ignite the passion of the lost ‘indie circa 2004’ generation. The news is announced: an album is to be released by Bloc Party, who, contrary to rumours did not expel lead singer Kele from the band. What name can be given to this saviour of guitar music? What intelligent and inspiring title are we to look out for on iTunes? After four years of an album-less wasteland, what will the quartet name their fourth album? Four. The lack of originality and sheer weakness of the title should set expectations for the ensuing 12 songs.
The first track, ‘So He Begins to Lie’, throws into our ears the message that Bloc Party have thrown away the electronics. Heavy guitar riffs and pounding drums replace synth pads and drum machines. Second track ‘3×3’ is even more rock based with wailed lyrics drowned in frantic drums and intense guitar work from long neglected Russell Lissack. In theory this is a good thing, but we are not faced with a song in the mould of ‘Like Eating Glass’ but rather a hybrid of early-Muse, late Biffy Clyro and Smashing Pumpkins. It just isn’t Bloc Party; it’s a sound that feels artificially constructed and gives the album a jarring and disconnected feel.
The next song and lead single from the album is the dire ‘Octopus’. Weak and gimmicky guitar tones, uninteresting lyrics and a tapping solo make this embarrassing. They could have picked from almost any other song on the album to be the first single, apart from ‘Real Talk’ that does the almost impossible by making ‘Octopus’ sound good. ‘Real Talk’ also introduces us to diabolical ‘studio banter’ after the track has finished. This reoccurs at various points throughout the album, and hearing the same awkward, banal comments after every listen of the song will make iPod listening incredibly annoying.
In my eyes,‘Kettling’ is a microcosm of the whole album. With a really nice Smashing Pumpkins-esque solo and riff, it also features awful lyrics and the knowledge that this isn’t what Bloc Party should be doing. Kele Okereke has always been a mercurial lyricist, from the sublime ‘So Here We Are’ and the beautiful ‘This Modern Love’, to the unimaginative ‘One More Chance’ and annoying ‘One Month Off’. Sadly, Four presents us with the bad side of his abilities and ‘Kettling’ is Kele’s ‘Ill Manors’, his reaction to the riots. The lyrics are laughable “Popo don’t fuck around” and set me giggling, but the chorus is some of the worst writing I’ve heard in years,
“Because they cant stop this
We can feel it in our bones
The future’s ours, yes it is
We can feel it in our bones.”
The rest of the album is more of the same, with moments of redemption in a mess of influences and misguided musical direction. ‘Day Four’ is a nice try at attempting to rewrite ‘Biko’ or ‘Signs’ from Intimacy but it just feels misplaced in this very distinctly rock album. ‘We Are Not Good People’ could quite be the alternate riff to Biffy Clyro’s ‘That Golden Rule’, reinforcing the theme of an album formed through rock influences and a neglect of what made Bloc Party such an instant success.
Four really isn’t a great Bloc Party record; good songs are few and far between but even the poor songs have saving moments. The overwhelming amount of rock guitar focused songs in response to the public’s demand for the band to return to Silent Alarm leaves a bad taste. It’s like asking for a single vodka and coke and receiving a double Jack Daniels and coke – it’s almost of what we wanted but a little too strong, and not really the right taste.By Joni Roome