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Bloc Party - Four

Four years is not a short space of time. You don't pop down the shops for four years for some milk, you don't go out for a four year jog. It's what makes The Olympics so special, the anticipation that erupts in a glorious release when those 2 weeks finally roll around again. Bloc Party have played a dangerous game, one I originally thought they had lost. Their first 3 albums were rapid fire releases, 2005-2008. Intimacy, in 2008, feels like an age ago. A sprawling, hulking pit of music, it dropped away in quality quite sharply as it progressed, and I felt that maybe Bloc Party had come out too hard, they'd over-extended themselves. A break felt natural. But it also built tension, expectation. Four had to be seriously good, it had to be Banquet mixed with Uniform mixed with Ares. It couldn't be boring, for example..

People around my age tend to remember Bloc Party as somewhat of an adolescent anthem band. Whilst I was not personally a cool or hip kid (I listened to Ja Rule..), Silent Alarm was constant background music, and once we all bought cars and started driving each other around, A Weekend In The City became the travelling soundtrack. Each song was distinctive, even if in its clumsiness or misguided aspirations of variety. So when Four finally arrived on my desk, I expected to come out of my first 2 or 3 listens with a clear 4 or 5 songs that most Bloc Party albums have that are excellent. I came out with Octopus.. And that's because I'd heard it already. The rest seemed to blend, it felt like they were reading straight from the 'How To Make UK Alternative Music' handbook. Four years and this was all they could come up with?!

If this is you, persevere. After a few more listens, the album reveals itself through a complex mix of subtlety, brute force, hidden melodies and the infectious delivery and content of Kele Okereke. So He Begins To Lie starts the album off in much the same way Ares did on Intimacy. It's a brutal, heavy guitar riff that halts and drops until propelled into the sky by Kele's chorus and a healthy injection of more guitar. 3 X 3 I actually originally thought was the weakest track on the record, but upon closer scrutiny it's urgency is infectious. Lyrically it's not particularly clear, 'Pierce the skin / It binds us / Spit cum blood / Liquid wax / No one loves you / As much as us' but the way Kele attacks it manages to drag it along and match the intensity of the guitars. These two tracks set the record up nicely. The energy is present and correct, and they've lost none of their sense of occasion.

It was on this last point I was initially skeptical. First listens felt underwhelming, as if they'd already nailed down a comfortable niche and were intent on sticking to it, similar to Maximo Park or Editors. It grows so suddenly though. Real Talk exposes a fragile Kele, revealing 'Can we get real for a moment? / You’re my one and only friend' about himself in a strangely melodic single syllable per line way. The chorus introduces a second guitar, matching his high pleading tones. Coliseum is an absolute brute of a song. Starting with a dusty acoustic section, Kele sings as if he is yelling at you across a dirt field, before it descends in to this grunge epic, the guitars are muddied up and the drums punctuate his screams 'Pain is hopefulPain is holy / Pain is healthy / Pain heals'. It's a brilliant track worthy of illustrious comparison.

The beauty of the record is its slowly opening flower characteristic. Previous Bloc Party releases have delivered knock out blows from the very first listen, and when you go back you find yourself skipping over tracks because you're bored of them. On Four, you're going backwards to listen to a song again, you just heard a new riff or a section of drums you hadn't been paying attention to before. The true difference is in how this record wraps up. Of the last 5 tracks, only The Healing is a disappoinment. V.A.L.I.S. is worthy of Silent Alarm era comparison, an effortless groove driven by simple drums, simple bass and the introduction of guitar delivers a treat. Team A possesses this same simple quality. Without sounding pretentious or over-bearing, there is a lot going on to propel the song forward. Added to it the delightfully adolescent dialogue Kele is running 'Been running your mouth / And the people been listening / said If you wanna throw down / We can go downtime / Any time / any damn time / Any time of the week. The chorus 'I'm gonna ruin your life' acts as a call to arms, it's infectious and invigorating. Truth could be the best track on the record. It's the closest I've come so far to being transported back to those nostalgic teenage days. The way it rides, the way Kele swims through the sound to deliver his message, it's classic Bloc Party.

Still, the best track has to be Octopus. It's a testament to a progressive band, this song. I could've said I liked Truth the best because it reminded me of their older music, I could've even rubbished this record and said compared to Silent Alarm and A Weekend In The City it's poor. But rather than rest on circumstance and previous feats, Bloc Party has moved differently. It's not a drastic change, they haven't started singing gospel. But Octopus doesn't sound like anything in their previous work. The chorus is vigorous and melodic, the beat is soothing yet the guitars are frenetic and disturbing. It doesn't come together until the chorus, when Kele matches up perfectly, only to then take it away almost immediately. This lack of rhythm promotes its own rhythm, and it's not an attempt at another Banquet. It's a solid track, and the more you listen to it the more you appreciate it.

7/10. A record then that doesn't inspire, yet has its own charm because of that. If I'd gone off first listen I'd have given it a 3. But it grows so distinctly and rapidly on you, you won't know what hit you. Four years is a long time to wait for a record. On this, Bloc Party didn't really justify such a long lay-off, but they didn't disgrace it either. 

Best Tracks: Octopus, Truth, Coliseum, V.A.L.I.S.


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