After a hiatus that saw front-man Kele Okereke testing the solo waters of R&B-inflected electronics, London indie outfit Bloc Party has returned leaner, meaner, and more dynamic than ever. Some studio banter between tunes is a dead giveaway that Four is a more documentary approach than the boys have taken previously. Rawer sounds and a live recording environment make this the closest to representing the band at its naked best.
Throughout the riff-driven album, Okereke puts his hard-earned confidence to good use — testing a snarl on “Octopus” and subtle R&B shadings on “Real Talk.” The guitar-heavy material plays up Bloc Party’s best attributes, offering a post-punk take on Brit pop with Okereke’s pliable, dramatic vocals.
There are other surprises here too. Okereke recently told us the members are fans of Blur’s chameleonic approach — the ability to inhabit a different genre skin from tune to tune. On Four, the band practices something similar (albeit all within rock), never retreading the same ground.
Bloc Party goes grunge with “Kettling,” whose monstrous guitar interlude is a much-needed update on Smashing Pumpkins’ “Gish” — and “So He Begins to Lie” has echoes of the theatrical, quiet-loud explosions of the Radiohead of old. (Its rolling, frenetic drums make for a thrilling opener too.) “Day Four” has a well-balanced delicacy and ethereal guitar line that’s reminiscent of shoegazers Catherine Wheel, and “Coliseum” begins with a bluesy jangle before launching into a speedy metallic riff-gasm.
If all of this sounds like a dress-up game, it’s far from it. The band captures the urgency that made Silent Alarm so celebrated. Russell Dean Lissack’s guitar fireworks are a thrill, and Matt Tong remains the gang’s turbo-cooled propulsive core. If Four has a weakness, it might be Okereke’s lyrics, which (unlike his soaring and whispered vocals) aren’t terrifically memorable. No matter, Four is meant to be heard, not read — and fans of Okereke’s writing can always hold out for his novel, due next year.