If you’re anything like me you might have woken up sometime around 2007 from a grad school- and electro-house induced rock coma, realizing that between Interpol, The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Editors and Bloc Party, you’d missed an entire musical movement that just so happened to be right up your alley. Alerting you to set aside for a moment the computers and turntables, Silent Alarm would’ve been just that: part of a greater call to action, reuniting us with our first true love – driving guitar rock – while assuring us of a now-obvious, then-crucial recognition: Rock and dance are not mutually exclusive! They never have been, it turns out, but we’d been under the illusory spell of an evil anti-dance dictatorship, and it took a serious jolt of something new to reawaken how amazingly well-suited they are for one another. (Take that, 90s!)
And so it was that Bloc Party quickly found itself at the core of our frantic-catch-up list. Their none-too-slumpy sophomore LP (A Weekend in the City) followed in 2007, cementing their status alongside the above handful of early-to-mid-aughts post-punk-revivalist greats. With Weekend’s auto-tuned, drum-looped, synth-heavy single “Flux” foreshadowing further electro experimentalism to come, its follow-up, Intimacy, with its Klaxons-esque dance punk, seemed a natural progression as well, placing Bloc Party by decade’s end ahead of its new rave/post-punk/electropop sea of contemporaries. It also found them at the end of their record contract, and thus at the start of a several-year hiatus producing solo albums and side projects aplenty, but with no clear vision for the band’s future – that is, until (talk of) Four surfaced.
The two songs that open this highly anticipated album – “So He Begins to Lie” and “3x3” – delve immediately into unfamiliar territory, channeling the likes of Dredg, Muse and even borderline Queens of the Stone Age meet System of a Down. Indeed, Four feels a bit at first like the band took a tumble down Catherine Wheel’s Happy Days rabbit hole: one part reliably and recognizably the sound everyone knows and loves; one part shreddy departure into Headbanger’s Ball territory that perplexes and befuddles. Longtime Bloc Party fans still shaking off the hibernation can and must be forgiven for doing a drastic double take, then, as they find themselves reticent to embrace these latest darkly-tinged tendrils of the Party’s decade-long evolution.
Before long, inspiration and motive are revealed: “You could be that 1% if you wanna,” announces the heavy-handedly-titled “We Are Not Good People,” signifying that between hard-rock riffing and crazy screaming, the album’s edge has been sharpened at least in part against a timely, politically-conscious populist fury. Perhaps the hand played here is this heavy because So Too is the Iron Fist it Seeks to Confront! (Sorry, it’s an Election Year after all, and their name and lyrical content doallude to a body politic engaged.)
If this Party’s not shaping up to be your cup of Tea, just hang with them for awhile longer: Four still bears many familiar trademarks, including most recognizably Kele Okereke’s excellent and confessional vocal work, which has grown and matured over the years – now as expressive, thoughtful and dynamic as ever, but with even more dramatically operatic highs (if you’re into that sort of thing) and deft falsettos (as in “The Healing”) – in all, still fittingly punk-rebellious, but with greater range and without grating repetition. The band remains tight, appropriately melodic, textured, dynamic and frenetic at various turns, returning generally to a more rock-based framework than before, while still incorporating loop-based production elements, revealing both stark contrasts and striking similarities to albums past. The recently-released, Intimacy-era-reminiscent “Octopus,” as well as more emotive tracks, “Day Four” and “Truth,” and the bouncy “Real Talk,” are all poppy, familiar and easy-to-digest songs that longtime Bloc Party fans will likely embrace. After traversing the new-and-old, soft-and-hard back and forth, two bonus tracks end the experience on an overall high note, with pleasing uplift and drive, pleading for us (We The People?) to “open your eyes and start all over” and “see the pattern, it’s all around us.”
The overall result is an album bearing diverse enough fruits for both their stylistically conservative and sonically progressive devotees alike. Whether said diversity lends itself to a cohesive enough vision for the album to work as a whole – and whether it’s enough Change or Status Quo to move the needle one way or the other, draw in any undecided's, or placate the base (of fans) – will be hard to know until The People’s Voice Has Been Heard. The good news is, the forecast is hopeful: Like so many great albums, it endears itself more with each listen; it seems our beloved bastions of New Millennium British Dance Rock are growing up with (the) time(s), and it shows.