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By Otis Graham
For a large part of the last decade, Bloc Party were one of the biggest indie bands around, from the massive critical success of 2005′s Silent Alarm to 2008′s electro-embracing Intimacy, via the huge single “Flux”. Then, with singer Kele Okereke taking time out to pursue solo projects, everything went a bit quiet, and by late 2011 the internet was rife with rumours that the band were splitting up. Not so: in the May of this year, a new album was announced, and now, four years after their last release, we have Four. So Bloc Party have something to prove. How does a band that all but vanished from their place at the top show that they’re still relevant and, more importantly, still good?
On first listen, Four comes across as strikingly dark. True, Intimacy didn’t exactly exult in joy, but whereas the band’s third album had a sorrowful edge, their fourth is far more sinister. “They know/That he knows/That they’re on to him” Kele sings on opening track “So He Begins to Lie”, and this paranoid edge flows through the album all the way to closer “We Are Not Good People”. Four also reveals a certain angst sonically; the riffs from “Kettling” and “Coliseum” sound closer to Metallica than to anything Bloc Party have done before. One suspects that the four Londoners may have gone through some tough times in the years since their last album.
And yet there’s also a light-hearted side to the record, which comes across in a couple of slightly bewildering skits and in songs like “V.A.L.I.S.” and “Truth” which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Silent Alarm. The overall effect of this erratic dark/light juxtaposition is that Four often feels wobbly and somewhat inconsistent. Although most if not all of the songs stand up on their own, together they jar slightly. If the band were intending to make their comeback with a statement, then it’s one which lacks coherence at times.
Which isn’t to say that the album doesn’t work, and it does contain moments of brilliance. Lead single “Octopus”, though more subdued than its predecessors, is bitingly cool, and the band’s songwriting talent is as undeniable as ever. Nonetheless, Four falls short of what you’d want or expect from a group who’ve had the best part of half a decade to come up with something big. Newcomers and fans alike will find it hard not to enjoy the record, but they’ll be listening to a band who, it seems, are past their peak.