Bloc Party ‘Day Four’ – Review

27 Aug

It’s been a good four years since Bloc Party released ‘Intimacy’, an album that divided fans due to its dance friendly beats and synthetic textures. Bloc Party had always leaned happily in this direction but ‘Intimacy was probably a step too far, both for fans and the band themselves. They disbanded so Kele could exercise his rave demons in a solo project, 2010’s solid ‘The Boxer’, and now he’s got that out of his system Bloc Party are back with their most guitar heavy record to date. In fact, what’s surprising is just how guitar heavy it is.

Kele and Russel’s twin attack produced some of the most recognisable hooks of the post-punk revival. Adjectives like angular and razor-sharp became common currency in music reviews and Bloc Party were a big reason why. Here though that brilliant relationship seems to have soured somewhat. If before their playing sounded like a perfectly choreographed duel, here it sounds like they’re hacking away at each other, trying to make as much damage as possible. Grunge has clearly been an influence, and I’m all for bands discovering new influences, but surely this is completely at odds with a band that have always benefited from a clean, slick sound? The grunge sound marrs about half of the new songs, some of which are actually very good underneath the messy fuzz.

Well what about the rhythm section, always Bloc Party’s most impressive unit? As I say, ‘Intimacy’ mined drum machine clicks and synth basslines with some success. It wasn’t always this way though; their second effort ‘A Weekend In the City’ flirted with hip hop beats, most brilliantly on lead single ‘The Prayer’, a song that gets better with age. But it’s the towering debut, ‘Silent Alarm’, where that rhythm section really made a name for itself. I don’t play bass or drums so I have no vocabulary to describe what on earth was going on, suffice to say that Matt Tong’s drumming was as insane and jaw dropping as anything else I heard all decade. Rolls, fills and thrills galore! On ‘Four’ there is none of that, in fact he sounds like he’s chugging along instead of galloping. The drum machine from the ‘Intimacy’ days has been boxed away but it’s been replaced by a rather bored human being.

Moving on, there are a few songs on ‘Four’ that remind you why Bloc Party have on and off been such an important band since their inception. Lead single ‘Octopus’ isn’t what you’d call a killer but of all the songs it is just about the only one that would have fitted nicely on ‘Silent Alarm’. ‘Day Four’ is a lovely ballad that recalls songs like ‘I Still Remember’ and ‘Blue Light’ whilst feeling pretty fresh and innovative for the band. ‘Valis’ has a catchy chorus with some interesting lyrics (‘He’s into methyl amphetamines / He’s into science / But he’s lost his way’). This is the type of song the band truly excel at producing. The guitars are sufficiently choppy, the singing is melodic, the drumming is impressive, the lyrics are intelligent and there is a dark atmosphere underpinning it all. Here Bloc Part sound at home again.

On one song Kele sings ‘Can’t shake the feeling we’re moving backwards, history repeating itself’. To be honest there is no danger of that happening here. Bloc Party have never been a band afraid of moving forwards with confidence, and for all its flaws ‘Four’ doesn’t retread old ground in an attempt to live off past glories. This is a somewhat brave and occasionally rewarding comeback, but almost as often it’s a tired and surprisingly sludgy update of Bloc Party’s signature sound. The grunge element isn’t an easy fit for the group, and while it’s nice to hear the guitars back in action, some of these songs are just overloaded by heaviness. Still, there is enough here to demonstrate that when they put their minds and hearts together Bloc Party still have something important to say and a captivating way of saying it.

6/10

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