Bloc Party: Four

Bloc Party, FourBloc Party: Four
Bloc Party has had four years to watch themselves slowly fade from the music world’s collective consciousness. A few of these years may have been spent licking their wounds after two albums that didn’t realize half the critical acclaim of their classic debut, Silent Alarm. And also over these few years, the four members focused on various side projects. And kept focusing on side projects. And kept not making music as Bloc Party. After rumors that frontman Kele Orekeke had left the band, the future of the band seemed precarious.

But now, here we are. Bloc Party is making music again and the narrative has quickly shifted to Bloc Party “returning to their roots” and staging their “grand comeback” with Four. This is correct for the most part, but it’s misleading. Although their signature guitar-laden sound makes many obligatory appearances on this record, the return to their punk roots isn’t the reason this album is their best since Silent Alarm. The quality lies in their sound subtly evolving, spurred most likely from the post-Silent Alarm confusion and fragmentation they’ve faced. It’s the quieter, more contemplative moments where Four really works. Although there have been many claims that this band is still very much fragmented (the playful interstitials of the bandmates talking between songs certainly doesn’t convince me those claims are wrong), I can’t help but think this is much more cohesive, united sound than many expected. Sure, some of the melodies are lazy. Sometimes Orekeke’s voice completely overwhelms the surprisingly weak instrumentation, like on “Day Four.” Other times he saves a fairly sleepy track with his impressive range, like on “3×3.” It’s certainly mixed, but the bright spots are hard to ignore.

As mentioned, there are understandably many attempts to return to that bracing wall-to-wall sound that made them famous. Yet the tracks that are overflowing with punk riffs seem a bit reluctantly thrown in. “Coliseum” is forceful, but it doesn’t have the emotion evident on tracks like “The Healing,” that may not rely on punk flair, but are still committed to dark, sincere lyrics. “We Are Not Good People” has “Don’t you forget we’re still those crazy, loud Londoners from 2005!” written all over it. It ends up feeling desperate and obvious. It has none of the deftness of “Valis,” likely the highlight of the record. It’s borderline pop-punk but, really, closer to just flat-out pop. Orekeke’s voice playing over the chorus is one of the most enjoyable musical moments of 2012 so far.

For many bands, it’s hard to separate the back story from the music itself. Every time Orekeke throws his voice wildly over a track, you can’t help but wonder if his heart’s actually in it. Luckily, the music wins out. Whether these four want Bloc Party in their futures is unclear. Yet a dedication to the band in the here and now does ring loud and clear. On the surface, the initial principle of this album is all wrong. It almost appears as though they realized, midway through recording, that a return to that post-punk template wasn’t going to work. This realization fortunately paved the way for a more contemplative, balanced sound. So maybe it isn’t a return to form, necessarily. But it’s certainly a return to quality music.
Rating: 7.0/10
MP3: Bloc Party “V.A.L.I.S.”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl