Back in 2007, when guitars were all the rage and the band were about to release Weekend In The City, the follow up to the decade defining Silent Alarm, Kele looked to quell the slight self congratulatory tone in the press toward post-millennial, multicultural Britain accepting its first multicultural rock-star. He said:
When I was growing up, I was lucky enough to be exposed to different kinds of music. I had friends from different sorts of places and I grew up playing the guitar. I didn't think about the social impact of that at all. It was never an issue when we started out, because I socialise in lots of different groups.
Fast forward to the present, indie-rock circa Silent Alarm is pretty much dead. The only new guitar outfit to sell any records are The Vaccines, who for all their charm, are about as original as a dictionary. Yet, Bloc Party insist on making a return. The NME ponders whether anyone (i.e. their readership), still cares.
Fortunately, if Intimacy proved their breakup album, Four is most definitely the make-up album. The title and artwork – four different coloured circles – imply unity. Each colour, one suspects, relates to an individual member. The Strokes used the same concept when naming Angles, claiming it reflected how each player in the band harmoniously contributed their own perspectives. However, it soon transpired that Julian provided the vocal tracks separately, via e-mail, rather than working with his pesky band mates in the studio. The end result proved as insipid as the recording process.
What saves Bloc Party from the same fate is that experimentation runs in the blood, without strain. The problems arose when one avenue of exploration suffocated all others. The key then, is balancing the urges to work as a unit. Four leaves no doubt; the group are back together, refreshed and ready to give one another the space and time to express themselves again.
Russell’s guitar is firmly plugged back in, and Matt is once more eagerly hammering the drums. As if to make a point, they introduce the character of the record on 'So He Begins to Lie'. But it is heavier this time, darker and, for all its familiar foundations, once again, sonically different to their previous work. Driving a loud ‘hello’ down our ears, The Deftones inspired guitar jaggedly booms about, licking gently at 'Like Eating Glass' and 'Hunting for Witches', before exploding into a searing breakdown, where to put it mildly, Matt and Russell let loose. It is a bloody brilliant cleansing. Lyrically, the song is 2012’s 'Helicopter', although depressingly there is no need to cross shores to the White House for inspiration this time, you only needs to think of Clegg, Cameron, Murdoch, Brooks, Gove... "The camera’s watching, he takes a breath. Even though that they know that he knows/cross his heart, hand on heart, open heart...as easy as closing his eyes, so he begins to lie. The camera’s watching, the camera’s watching him lie."
Listen // 'So He Begins To Lie'
'3x3' continues down the dark path of truth and identity, with the riffs remaining suitably grunge ridden. Kele threateningly whispers ‘no one loves you’, then launches in to his own cathartic exultation, yelping: ‘by all in me that’s holy, by all in me that’s blessed, I made to you a promise/that this is forever and ever. Amen’. Still, there is a crisis going on here, but the subject eventually emerges decisive: ‘No, yes, no, YES’. As much as it could be interpreted as part of a narrative leading on from the first track about political morality, it would be wrong to ignore the links toward Kele’s rehabilitated commitment to the band. As such, it stands as a pledge of allegiance.
Indeed, loyalty is a consistent theme on the album. When Russell switches to mellower tones on 'Day Four' and 'Real Talk', Kele is typically honest, especially during the latter, ‘my mind is open and my body is yours’. Similarly, throughout 'Truth', his falsetto tones sing, 'I am yours now, respectfully. I am yours now, truthfully’.
It is a testament to the band, and the album, that these tracks sound layered and diverse, thanks in no small part to Moakes on bass, yet nostalgically reach out to their previous ballads; specifically 'This Modern Love' and 'I Still Remember'. Bloc Party may have pushed reset with the heavy, thrash metal rebirth, but they have done so with memories intact, and are now much more assured as to what their core identity is. Lead single, 'Octopus', surmises how even though they have reverted to a rock driven sound, it is on their own terms. The indie-pop hook is still there, albeit with enough twist and use of the loop pedal to firstly, keep Kele happy, and secondly, distinguish itself from the crowd. That said, it is one of the least daring tracks on the album (ignoring the dark subject matter about a teenager committing a school shooting) – a sign that the band have outgrown, rather than desperately avoided, the generic indie-rock format.
This is not to suggest all elements of mass appeal have been disregarded. 'V.A.L.I.S' is one of the most radio friendly tracks Bloc Party have ever written, but it is wedged amongst violent numbers 'Kettling' (a soundtrack to last year’s riots), 'Coliseum' and 'Team A'. The fact things switch from pop hooks, to reverb filled Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana hugging bomb blasts in the blink of an eye, says much about Four. Although the weight of the shock and awe tactics can feel a bit overbearing on the album as a whole, it was never meant to flow together. Four is a glorious mess - the sound of four people, freeing themselves and thereby making their best album in years. Sure, it lacks continuity, and no, it is not as accessible as their debut. Silent Alarm is its own masterpiece. Four suggests Bloc Party have a second, very different kind, well within their reach.
Yes, Bloc Party are back, but not as you would expect. Roll on number five.
Worth listening to:
- So He Begins To Lie
- Team A
- Day Four