SCQ Rating: 75%
“There was a sense of disappointment as we left the mall / All the young people looked the same,” Kele Okereke intoned on A Weekend In the City's centerpiece, and it’s a lyric I’ve never comfortably moved beyond. Delivered as one of many rites of passage for that excellent sophomore record, it’s an epiphany that nevertheless sounded naïve or, at least, most likely to resonate among those same self-conscious mall-loiterers. And aptly, many fans of Silent Alarm’s angular ferocity felt letdown by a burgeoning emotive scale that elbowed Bloc Party, lyrically and sonically, toward the mainstream.
That perceived turning point, beginning with A Weekend In the City and continuing on the electronic-minded Intimacy, seesaws more violently than ever between evolution and regression with Four. Example: following the back-to-basics dynamic of love-song “Real Talk” (evolution, check), Okereke adlibs a bad pun about holding a turkey breast while singing as a means of “keeping abreast of the situation” (regression, check). Granted, nothing else on Four approaches that regrettable spike, with most of Bloc Party’s impulses choosing to engage heavier material that will nevertheless deepen the fanbase divide. The disappointed half responsible for calls of “emo” in recent years will find fresh evidence on “Kettling”, a track barely disguising its Weezer circa Pinkerton ambitions, whereas most fans will stand bewildered by “Coliseum”’s promising blues being buried by metal-aping riffs. While Okereke's voice has probably never sounded better than it does on Four, drummer Matt Tong's gutteral screaming feels like an awkward step outside of the group's comfort zone.
Bloc Party’s two primary strengths – immaculate rhythm and pitch-perfect atmospherics – have always worked best en masse. Even 2007's “Where Is Home?”, arguably the band’s angriest track, wouldn’t have sounded so immersive without a layer of dreaminess underpinning it all. And Four delivers a handful of tracks that live up to that reputation, from tenderly off-kilter ballad “The Healing” and the hypnotic lushness of “Day Four” to “Team A”’s thunderous, effect-laden menacing. Navigating the record’s snarling terrain can be perilous – tracks like “3 x 3” and “We Are Not Good People” seem to be designed solely for speaker-shaking volume – but a solid pop song like “V.A.L.I.S.” usually waits around the corner.
“Can’t shake the feeling we’re moving backwards,” Okereke shrugs on “Coliseum” but I remain a neutral fan, commending Bloc Party for testing the raw edge of their capabilities even though it presents a less flattering showcase of their talents. Four isn’t a full-on regression but it’s a far cry from their best work.