It was the album that nearly never was. With cracks appearing in the band, rumours of Kele being shut out of rehearsals, and the singers own solo work heading off in a distinctly un-Bloc Party disco direction, many commenters quite reasonably assumed that the bands fourth album would stall before it began. Now the revitalised band have got it together to deliver, with both expectation and pressure high. The single Octopus was a promising first salvo; an intelligent indie disco thrasher spiked with sharp cornered riffs and Kele delivering his trademark yelps with a bleak glee.
However the album proves to be a fractured affair. Awkward first track So He Begins to Lie attempts to fuse Muse style bombast to Bloc Party’s typically jerky guitar contortions and comes off sounding like an OK filler rather than the statement of intent a great album kicks off with. It’s way more ‘B side’ than ‘back with a bang’. The grandiose stadium influences carry over onto next track 3×3 which has Kele trying out a ‘sinister’ whisper over Russell’s shock and awe fret work. It hits harder than the previous cut, and would probably have made a better opener. Things carry on fairly strong from here, Octopus followed by the touching, maudlin Real Talk, which I’m pretty sure is the first Bloc Party track to feature a banjo. As it happens, the banjo is a harbinger of an entirely confusing swamp blues cum rap metal direction that the band wheel out a few tracks on, on Coliseum. The fusion comes pretty much out of nowhere, has no real compatriots on the album and suffers from a cynical ‘here’s one for the Yanks’ feel. Straight after comes V.A.L.I.S., a well-constructed shot of vintage, very indie, very British sounding Bloc Party, making the inclusion of Coliseum all the odder.
From here Four romps home without any more unwelcome curve balls—final song We Are Not Good People proving that the band can bash out thrash punk without losing sight of their unique signifiers- primarily those staccato bass lines, compressed drum hits and Kele’s ever present sarcastic delivery. It’s a brash, loud and defiant final moment and has the potential to be truly phenomenal performed live.
So the verdict—a decent album deviled by a couple of bad decisions. In a world where fans rarely grab a full album, that probably won’t matter too much at all. 7/10