4 (four; /ˈfɔər/) is a number, numeral, and glyph. It is the natural number following 3 and preceding 5.
There it is then.
Just another number. One of an infinite amount in fact. So what’s its significance? Why should Bloc Party use it as the title of their latest release? Their comeback album even. Well, I mean there’s the glaringly obvious fact that this is their fourth album. Though that’s too easy for Bloc Party, too straightforward. I mean there could well be a basis in that simple fact, but it seems more significant than that.
Given the tensions running through the band around the time of their last album, Intimacy, subsequently leading to the hiatus that this album sees them returning from, Four as an album has more of an importance to the band and their career, than just any other fourth album. Why wouldn’t this be the case for the title?
As the band, directed by frontman Kele Okereke, delved ever deeper into electronic territory it seemed almost as though it was a one man show; Kele & The Bloc Parties. Given the talent of Russell Lissack (lead guitar), Gordon Moakes (bass) and Matt Tong (drums) on their respective instruments, it felt uncomfortable knowing they seemed to be on the backburner for Kele’s dance tendencies (further verified in interviews with singer/guitarist where he discussed the wonders of dance music and his eventual solo project that singularly drove headlong into club music).
It’s for this reason that Four holds an importance in its title, greater than simply its chronological significance. Four represents four individuals, four equal members of one collective. A united front.
Now, that may sound a little Communist Manifesto for most, but the album speaks for itself – this is a band working together. Alongside that, it’s a far more intimate listen than Intimacy ever was.
Microphone hiss, bored hits of the drums and studio chatter asks ‘have you got that already? Alright…’ before an amp switches on, the drums kickstart a groove and feedback reaches a peak before drops and brings the track around proper. It’s rough and ready, though no doubt orchestrated so, a far cry from the pulse of programming that dominate last time around. As a track itself So He Begins To Lie is an attention grabbing opener but not brash. It grinds for the most part on a dance-punk groove that’s a little bit robotic a little bit Queens of the Stone Age. The chorus is a dizzying rush.
It’s a scene setter for an album that is darker and heavier than might’ve been expected. Second track 3 x 3 takes this further with diminished progressions and Kele doing his best threatening whispers at the tracks head, announcing that “no one loves you as much as us” it sounds like cults call to prayer shot full of adrenalin and theatrics. It’s strangely impressive. The already established Octopus follows this with earphone bleed and a laboured huff before its catchy but skittering robo-pop brings to mind early Bloc Party just in time for a solo pinched right out of Daft Punk’s Aerodynamic.
Kettling really gives the riff some muscle as it almost verges on nu-metal and British alternative/post-hardcore from the early ‘00s with tinges of Hell Is For Heroes and Hundred Reasons as it angstily deals with the recent riots from a rioters perspective. Coliseum starts off sounding not unlike Loser by Beck combined with Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked by Cage the Elephant but more subdued before Kele announces that “the empire never ended!” and the band suddenly turn into Velvet Revolver.
It’s not all balls to the walls though, as is to be expected with a Bloc Party album there are of course some gentle moments. Real Talk being the first as it emanates the insecure indie shuffle of emotion one might imagine someone with a bobble hat and backpack walking head down to as they think about things and feels ways about stuff. It’s a grower though and is genuinely tender, plus features a nice out-of-place-yet-somehow-fits folk instrumentation. Day Four is another pre-released track that tries a little too hard to be intimate and emotive to feel sincere, it meanders a bit but the ending is beautiful.
Truth avoids being too twee for its own good thanks to drum work of Matt Tong keeping it driven, but it still feels to soppy and soft in parts; generic indie sad soundtrack to an episode of Skins. Something not shared by V.A.L.I.S that in spite of sporting the air of melancholy about it, is altogether danceable, an admittedly angular slow dance, but it’s great. The backing vocals are simple and brilliant. Team A takes the agitated riff of Octopus and winds it up somewhere, almost capturing the high strung tension of Silent Alarm and A Weekend In The City. Heavier though.
The album’s penultimate track is The Healing that glides between dreamy and lacklustre, I’m still uncertain which it is if I’m honest, but just as you’re on the verge of getting lost or falling asleep Bloc Party suddenly and abruptly turn into Death From Above 1979 for the album’s closing track We Are Not Good People. One part Arctic Monkeys, one part DFA 1979, one part QOTSA, one part Bloc Party. It’s fucking raucous, and a cruel adrenalin shot to leave you with. Plus Russell shreds the shit out of his guitar, doing some serious making up for putting his guitar in the cupboard for Intimacy.
Let’s get this clear. This album is not Silent Alarm, nor is it A Weekend in the City and it’s also not Intimacy either. What is it then? It’s Four. A pretty fine return to form from a once seminal indie band. There are creases that need ironing out sure and the inclusion of the nonsense studio chatter (breasts, turkey breasts, being abreast of the situation, baby spiders crawling out of bitemarks) seems like a forced raw edge to imply fun and unity, but on the whole it genuinely seems like this is Bloc Party back to business as a band. Not just business though, but enjoyment they sound tight and live like they’re having fun again. Kele too giving his most energetic and varied vocal performance in some time.
Even the bonus tracks are good actually.