Friday, 17 August 2012

Bloc Party - Four

 

To detail the chronicles of Bloc Party would be to both reflect upon and even detail to some degree the Shakesperian-like tragedy that British indie rock has become within the space of four-to-five years. As I've referenced in previous reviews, the tale is typical yet equally apathetic in its truthfulness. It's the mid-noughties; the UK music scene finds itself caught amidst a surge and influx of bands that bring about many levels of collectiveness regarding their appeal. It takes one catchy hook, maybe one line of vocals - lyrical or not - and in some rare moments of clutching at straws (that masquerades as genuine hope), a full album is immortalized as if some saving grace of music and the holy grail of modern creativity. The crowds gather in size, the hype continues, the press build both the figureheads (and the egos that come with it) up, expecting both more of the same yet something completely different to excite. And then comes the crash - an implosion of will as well as a cataclysmic decline in quality, and later, intrigue from the outsider's viewpoint. The list speaks for itself: Kaiser Chiefs, The Fratellis, The Kooks, The View. Like some World War service of remembrance, only a few remain to tell the horrific  tale.

Bloc Party are one of these such survivors. The reality, however, could have been so much different - 2008's 'Intimacy' nearly bringing about the end of the four-piece. While frontman Kele Okereke went off to fulfill his interest in dance music in the form of a solo album, rumors started spreading that the remaining three members were already holding auditions for a new lead-vocallist. It didn't help proceeding when Okereke announced, prior to playing a track at Glastonbury 2010 that it was a song by 'a band that [I] used to be in'. Miraculously, what bad-blood or heated debates may or may not have existed, has been put in the past and the four-piece have returned with album number four, entitled fittingly 'Four'. While the set-up and this part in the tale may make this record out as a much-needed return to form and a welcome addition to this year's releases, there's certainly signs here that the band haven't quite rediscovered the same form that made 'Silent Alarm' - in all its explanatory lyricism and swinging guitar hooks - one of the UK's more-memorable indie listens of the previous decade.

'So He Begins To Lie' opens the album in a bombardment of drums and rowdy guitar work, the signature hooks while making less an appearance here is made up by Okereke's much-loved much-needed bold attracted vocal work. 'The camera's watching/He takes a breath' he proclaims in separations of expression and emotive richness, 'Even though that they know that he knows, that they're onto him.' It is indeed the vocals that work the best with these manners of song structure, guitar work while providing a rough and bumpy texture still add very little to the compelling atmosphere of the album's opener. '3x3' likewise tries its luck at combining Kele's split-second outpouring with this rougher deliverance of guitar riffs and drum beats. The result is somewhat passable and unfortunately forgettable beyond this point of the album, but does succeed in at least setting a gracious uplifting mood in the opening stages of the record. 'Octopus' sees the Bloc returning to their familiar attempts at providing simpler swings of string notation - Okereke's shift in tone and direction coming out more interesting and exciting than the dragged-on dragged-across repetition flowing through this track. Indeed, the guitar work doesn't live up to expectation, and it's the vocal work that steals the spotlight and rightly-so deserves more of the attention.

When they want to be, the band can be great when trying to pull something more emotive in their conceptualization of a track, but it's the attempts at immediately hooking the listener (on this album specifically) that fails to live up to its potential heights. The ideas are interesting, yes...but it all becomes so overshadowed by the latter and better usage of guitars - along with Okereke's withdrawing mood of vocals and lyricism - that the original intent becomes lost and almost forgotten entirely. This said conceptualization then comes up top trumps in tracks like 'Day Four', Kele provided with that extra breadth of space to fully immerse himself between the strum of guitars and foot-tapping rhythm of percussion. 'My light burns low/And I know it's running out', Okereke almost hauntingly passes out between the composite of guitar strings and drums, like an echo. But it's the addition of further string arrangements in the drone of violins and cellos that only add to the escalated heightening this track escapes towards, pulling this feat off remarkably well.

It's frustrating then, to say the least, that these spells of captivation and compelling composition are in short supply on this record. Or to put it in a better context, are in a shorter supply to Bloc Party's, what seems to be, more ambitious attempt at purely riff-driven rock music. 'Coliseum', which stands more as an compacted outburst while actually providing quite a catchy and addictive rung of chords and drum hits, by the end, ends somewhat anti-climatic and only asking the listener for more. 'Pain is hopeful/Pain is holy/Pain is healthy/Pain heals', Okereke blurts in singular in-between pulsatting blurbs, a reference perhaps to the tribulation and stress of the band's last few years, stuck in limbo and unsure whether the band would ever even get to this point. 'Team A' likewise works well as a driven-forward song that comes across as a song unwilling to look back and simply take everything in its stride. The erratic hooks and rapid drum beats even feel 'Silent Alarm'-ish through their roughness and their consistency, which is certainly a welcomed thing to hear. It's quite fitting I make this comparison given how abruptly frustrating and honest Okereke spells out, 'See I know you're hating/Anticipating a breakthrough/I been there, done that, over with.' There's certainly a suggestion the band know where their previous records lay in the minds of their fans and critics, and certainly answer those notions with this track.

'The Healing' then follows closely behind, the penultimate offering from Bloc Party's (what is quickly becoming) the band's realizing, perhaps, of where they went wrong and trying to make some form of amends through both acceptance and appreciation of both the success and the mistakes they may or may not have made. The track certainly comes across in a sort of empathetic self-reflective tone and delivers that most importantly through an optimism of lyrical deliverance: 'As life gets harder/Whatever strikes, you'll heal/You will heal'. Certainly taking in everything that has passed through this album, it's Okereke that expresses that sincerity of realization most clearly, which of course is lifted only by the immense following of guitars and drums that fill the space around him.

If you had never followed the workings of Bloc Party, you may have noticed the spell between 'A Weekend In The City' & 'Intimacy', followed then by the break between that album and this one, and come to the conclusion that this was a band that had either ran out of ideas for a brief period, or had simply taken a break for whatever reason. While it would be easy to relegate the truth to simply the latter argument, there are some note-worthy hints on this album that the former may, unfortunately, hold some merit too. Bloc Party, to their defense, are still a band who will remain somewhere within the top rungs of the indie rock ladder in this country, but that doesn't mean they're immune to the objectiveness of simply getting caught down a one-way creative path with little escape, and even littler attempt to do so. 'Four' is an album that while showcases the strengths of Bloc Party as a band, also signals an evidently clear showing of the more riskier - and therefore, potentially weaker - side to the four-piece. It's a welcome sight to see these guys still going and returning to our screens (and our speakers), but I wouldn't go as far as to say they've come back with a bang. Well, maybe they have...but unfortunately here, it's lost somewhere between all the unwanted whimpers of guitar riffs and notated progression, it's somewhat muffled in its clarity.
~Jordan

6.8

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