Four may be 2012’s most exciting guitar album – who would have predicted that?
Jaime Gill 2012-08-10
Bloc Party’s unpredictability has always been admirable, emerging as they did from the hopelessly conformist, misnomered world of ‘indie’. Leaping to fame with the inventive but guitar-bound Silent Alarm debut, frontman Kele Okereke soon began dragging the band ever deeper into electronica. It was a journey that most fans – and ultimately his band – decided not to accompany him on.
The band never formally split, but Okereke’s delight in his solo album and guitarist Russell Lissack’s secondment to Ash suggested otherwise. Which makes Four a reunion album, not a typically lovely or exciting creature (witness The Verve’s similarly titled Forth). It’s as true for bands as for couples: getting back together doesn’t normally work.
Yet from the moment So He Begins to Lie tears out of the speakers, it’s obvious that Bloc Party have dodged expectations again. Lissack’s fantastically crunchy riff, Okereke’s echoing vocal and Matthew Tong’s feverish drum rolls forcefully prove that Bloc Party are a real band again, and a rock band at that. Followed immediately by the Banshees-like strafing guitars and hysterically gothic vocals of 3x3, they sound so raw and energetic you’d think they formed 13 weeks ago, not 13 years.
Mostly, this works immensely to Four’s advantage. The band has always been marked out by introspection, but here the slower songs sound winningly hesitant and unpolished. Real Talk stumbles forward slowly, Okereke’s bruised vocal dragged along by Lissack’s shuffling guitar. On The Healing, the band almost becomes the Cocteau Twins, with lovely, lapping guitar lines matched by a frail, dreamy vocal.
Between the soft and hard extremes lies the python-like Octopus: its frenetic guitar line, stuttering rhythm (borrowed from Portishead’s Machine Gun) and delightfully skipping vocal looping around the listener, before the chorus brutally tightens. V.A.L.I.S. is even better, its guttural bassline, jerky guitars and elasticated melody sounding like a brilliant hybrid of The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
The downside to this newborn approach is that Four doesn’t cohere particularly well, and amateurish errors like the vicious but unfinished Kettling stand uncorrected. Still – remarkably – Bloc Party sound full of potential where just four years ago they sounded depleted. Indeed, Four may be 2012’s most exciting guitar album, and who would have predicted that?