Back with a bang
I should never have doubted or even felt a shred of apprehension about Bloc Party‘s studio return after a four year hiatus. Kele Okereke’s solo asides were much less than stellar but thankfully his experimental excursions seem to have benefited the band tremendously rather than hinder it.
By the time I was a fan, roughly around late 2008, opinions had already formed and solidified about their three albums and supposed progressive downfall. I went into all of them with no real expectations and was totally unaware of the growing discontent with the band’s direction. Perhaps my blissful ignorance of the critical and public incense was a factor in my near equal enjoyment and appreciation of each record’s intricacies.
Bloc Party had never let me down before, and they still haven’t. Four is a collection of songs that are lucky to exist when you consider the band’s recent history; tensions supposedly having reached boiling point after Intimacy, rumors of the search for a new singer. Four‘s name, aside from the most obvious numeral significance, seems to have another meaning; this isn’t an album that gives the impression of being dictated by one person but rather, feels like more of a team effort (yes, they are four members in the band); granted, the lyrics are still classic Okereke, which is perfectly fine considering I’ve always enjoyed his writing (it’s mostly great here, once again) but instrumentally, the album doesn’t contain a shred of the rather poor fitting electronica he’s indulged in over the past few years, that particular itch having been scratched with his solo work. (and don’t get me wrong, such elements have their place in Bloc Party but Intimacy demonstrated their limits).
Those underwhelmed by Octopus should still make the effort to check out the album in its entirety. The debut single is likely the weakest track; not bad by any means but certainly meagre in context. Instead of computerised beats, the record takes the two thirds form of honest, straightforward hard-rock, hugely reminiscent of bassist Moake’s Young Legionnaire. 3×3, Kettling, and We’re Not Good People find the quartet channeling their inner Queens of the Stone Age to fantastic effect. The remaining third, in particular Day Four and The Healing demonstrate their retained ability to create the touching, sombre, indie ballads which Bloc Party have been known and renowned for in the past. It’s a combination which works well and never falters throughout the album’s 43 minute running time.
I usually like minimalism but in the case of Four‘s cover art, I can’t help but be a little disappointed. It is a jarring choice considering the band’s history of provocative artwork. What should probably be a striking example of ‘less is more’ appeal ultimately undermines the record’s visual impact, a result of unfulfilled expectation.
I’ve looked hard but that’s about the only flaw I can really find with Four. Maybe it’s my Bloc Party fanboyism or a hunger gone unsatisfied for so long clouding my judgement, but I can’t really care when I’m still enjoying it so much after so many listens.
It was worth the wait.