There isn’t a single word that can accurately describe Bloc Party’s latest album, Four.
The band’s most recent work is an eclectic and unpredictable collection of songs, an album with musical mood swings. The four U.K. men that make up Bloc Party — Kele Okereke (lead vocals), Russell Lissack (lead guitar), Gordon Moakes (bass) and Matt Tong (drums) — demonstrate on Four that they are capable of sounds that range from confusing yet strangely addicting to mellow and, at times, sweet. The band’s name — a play on “block party” and the political term “Bloc party” — has ignited controversy and even some hostility, but criticism has never stopped the band from releasing edgy and bold music.
Bloc Party’s genre blending is maybe best presented in the form of the album’s 12th track, “We Are Not Good People,” a commotion of crashing cymbals and screaming, punk rock vocals. Need a song to wake up to in the morning? This would be a great choice. It’s loud, with lots of guitar shredding and rebellious lyrics such as “We’re not good people / This is a warning.” Though it’s understandable that Bloc Party would end its album off with a bang, the band overdid it with this track.
Still, the eccentricity of the album is most apparent toward the middle of the album and grows a little stranger with each track. In “So He Begins To Lie,” features an underlying edginess that permeates, with a grungy, British approach and influence. Without any musical growth or variation in this track, Bloc Party is not off to a great start.
Elsewhere, clumsy lyrics like “First cut first / Pierce the skin / It binds us” (from “3×3”) make it seem like the band is trying (and failing) to create a goth-punk rock persona.
Then suddenly, amid tracks filled with dark lyrics, comes “Real Talk,” a track somewhere along the lines of Cali-punk rock, an ideal track for a road trip. Undoubtedly, it’s an unexpected transition from the previously harsher sounds. But even with its welcome mellowness, this track is forgettable, as if it was hastily thrown into the album as an afterthought.
But, after another vague song, “Kettling,” packed with political undertones and seemingly produced only to justify the band’s double-entendre name, Bloc Party finds its album’s musical calling. Cue “Day Four.”
With more of a mainstream sound, “Day Four” showcases the subtler vocals of Okereke who we’ve only heard scream, shout and whisper thus far in the album. And unlike the monotony of “So He Begins To Lie,” this track reaches a dreamy, pensive pinnacle: Lissack loops a starry riff and Tong keeps a steady beat as violins play in the background. It’s beautiful. It’s unique. It’s the kind of music that should have been on Bloc Party’s album all along.
Bloc Party ultimately redeems itself with “V.A.L.I.S.” an imaginative tribute to Philip K. Dick’s science fiction novel VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System). Regardless of one’s familiarity with the book, the upbeat lyrics “Show, show, show, show / You gotta show me the way” are catchy and enjoyable. The creative reference also shows off the band’s playful side, a side previously inconceivable.
After hearing heavy metal rock for much of the album, it seems appropriate that “Healing” would be one of Bloc Party’s closing tracks. Taking it down a notch, Bloc Party delivers a slow-dance feel with smooth vocals and the gentle strums of Lissack’s guitar. “As life gets harder / Whatever strikes, you’ll heal / You will heal” are lines that serve not only to comfort fans who need some reassurance, but also as a reminder to the band that they will trudge on despite the criticism they might receive for its newer sounds.
An album with its fair share of highs and lows, Four is a musical enigma that showcases Bloc Party’s versatility. Four, in some ways, serves also as the band’s musical timeline, a chronological relic of how Bloc Party finally found its sound despite its initial duds. Though the album is far from perfection, its unpredictability feels genuine and rare.