The significant pre-release moment for the eagerly anticipated fourth long player from Bloc Party came when front man Kele Okereke confessed that he had been recently influenced by Nirvana’s “Bleach” album. To admit to an interest in one of the most unproduced, guitar heavy alternative rock albums in history suggested that the new collection would dispense with the blippy machine beats, electronic keyboard fills and computerized electronic rhythms of their previous release (“Intimacy”). Okereke’s experiment had split opinion, estranged a large bulk of their fans and the agreed hiatus following the “Intimacy” tour showed the growing distance between the singer and his bandmates. Thankfully, “Four” isn’t a defensive attempt to recreate their critical and commercial peak that came from the 2005 debut “Silent Alarm”, but it is a return to a guitar led post punk familiarity fans and critics alike will welcome with open ears. Indeed, “Four” is probably the Londoners loudest statement, unflinching hard rock riffs allied with Matt Tong’s densely powerful rhythms.
As if to deliberately highlight this new outlook the opener “So He Begins To Lie” captures the spirit of “Four” perfectly. The crunching Russell Lissack riff married to a rhythm that’s as obtuse as it is driven makes for an authentic wall of noise not heard in years. “3 x 3” ups the ante with added Muse styled overblown mania, all led by Okereke’s hysterical shriek. Lead single “Octopus” initially feels like an odd choice to showcase the album, but after a couple of listens the juddering guitar loops and a falsetto melody that skips around the beat insistently worms its way into your aural conscience. Talking of single potential, the excellent “V.A.L.I.S.” is as close to a genuine Bloc Party pop song you are ever likely to hear, and surely deserves consideration for an individual release.
Mostly the invention works well, but there are a couple of miss-steps. Combining a White Stripes styled delta blues opening and blending it into a crude death metal rant on “Coliseum” is both clumsy and unnecessary. “We’re Not Good People” is a very average punk workout, very badly placed to close out the collection. But mostly the mix works well, particularly the more revealing slower numbers “Day Four” and “The Healing” which remind the listener that the band are beautifully subtle musicians capable of an unabashed tenderness that complements the disjointed, distorted rockers.
It’s incorrect to say that Bloc Party are back. Truth is they never went away, but “Four” reminds us that 7 years on from their superb debut album, the band have never lost their relevance and there’s every likelihood that this record will bring new pilgrims to the fold. It’s surprisingly one of the more memorable guitar rock collections of 2012. Now who would have thought that at the start of the year?