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Bloc Party – Four

Bloc Party‘s first three albums are completely distinct from each other.  Their first album, 2005’s Silent Alarm, was an unabashed riot of UK alt-rock.  They followed up with 2007’s A Weekend in the City, a much more textured and mature work that was my second favorite album of last decade.  A year later Intimacy was released, which favored the more electronic side of the band and all but abandoned the guitar laden hooks that the band was known for.

Lead singer Kele went on to make a solo album and explore those electronic influences even more, while lead guitar player Russell Lissack went on to play in the power pop band Pin Me Down, and us die hard fans of the band were left scratching our heads, wondering if this signaled the demise of Bloc Party altogether.

It’s been four long years since Intimacy has been released, an album that I admittedly hated at first, but which has since grown on me quite a bit.  They return with their fourth album, aptly named, Four.  I for one have greatly been anticipating this album, not only because I thought it would never happen, but also wondering which version of Bloc Party  was going to show up if it did, or if a new one would be re-invented once again.

The album begins with what sounds like the band getting ready for practice.  We hear the mics squeal, and the guitars feedback as Kele announces for the band to get ready.  Right away the first song, So He Begins to Lie, gives us a taste that this may be the Bloc Party we first heard in 2005 with a guitar driven almost punk rock feel to it, but there’s something epic sounding in that first track that takes the song from being a garage rock/practice track to an almost wall of sound, arena rocker…but almost seems to be the theme here.

The album then slams in to 3X3, one of the darkest tracks I’ve heard from the band.  By now we can tell that Lissack’s input on guitar is once again front and center, and drummer Matt Tong (probably one of the 5 best drummers out there today) is slamming behind the kit in an almost speed metal fashion.

The next single Octopus jumps in to the more electronic part of Bloc Party that we’ve seen, an electronic lullaby that is a little basic in its structure for the band, and sounds like a B-Side from a Ratatat album.

Real Talk is a soothing, dreamy love song with idyllic guitars, but lacking in the backbeat.   Kettling along with Coliseum almost enter heavy metal territory, and would be right at home as b-sides from Silent Alarm as would V.A.L.I.S., a sing along pop anthem.  Day Four is probably my favorite album on the track and reminds me a lot of I Still Remember.  It, along with another song Truth, are two of the rare songs on the album where everything actually comes together and reminds me of how great the band can be.

The album is rounded out with Team A, which relies entirely on Tong’s backbeat along with staccato, delayed guitar effects, ramping up to an impressive full speed assault. The Healing sneaks in there as well, as one of their most poignant tracks to date, but I’m not sure how it fits in with the rest of the album as a whole.

Four lacks a lot of the mystery that made A Weekend in the City so great, and brings back some of that anthemic anger that early fans of the band loved so much, while only hinting at the electronic themes in Intimacy.   I can appreciate Bloc Party‘s attempt to strip this back and get closer to their roots, but some of their other work seems to sneak through the cracks confusing the album a little bit.  A lot of the songs start off so well, but have trouble going anywhere at all.  Maybe the album will grow on me in time like Intimacy did, but Four feels and sounds like a band that is trying to figure out if they want to start over, or perhaps wrap things up.

Grade: B-