Critically acclaimed albums can be both a gift and a curse for bands, especially if the album in question is their debut. These albums can hoist a band up to a state of high regard for the body of work they’ve created, but at the same time are held up to a particular standard, by both fans and critics alike, which may end up a creative hindrance, or worse, impossible to satisfy. Consider Bloc Party, a post-punk band that made a splash in 2005 with their brilliant debut, Silent Alarm. It had a furious and fluid blend of soaring melodies and driving rhythms, with Kele Okereke’s vocals exuding emotional depth via topics ranging from young adulthood to global politics. To critics, this was an invigorating beginning, the `00s post-punk resurgence from that point no longer just about Interpol’s dark, brooding ideal. Yet subsequent albums A Weekend In the City and Intimacy were met with tepid reactions as a result of the band’s attempt to move on. So it’s probably not much of a surprise that, after a few commercially and critically lukewarm releases, Four, Bloc Party’s latest release, attempts to capture the spirit of 2005.
While it’s hard to fault the band for a round of nostalgia, this tack also has its drawbacks. There are parts of Four that seem like a natural progression, and then there are others that seem very out of place. “Octopus,” the album’s first single, sounds very much like a Bloc Party song. It carries the elements that built up so much buzz for the band in the first place: high-energy guitar riffs, rapid-fire drums, and Kele Okereke’s emotive delivery. But as the album moves further, it moves in a variety of different directions. Tracks such as “So He Begins To Lie,” “Kettling,” “Coliseum” and “We Are Not Good People” all seem to be consistent in that they attempt to carry much heavier guitar riffs despite Bloc Party not being known for doing so. In fact, these songs, specifically, “Kettling” and “Coliseum,” sound more like poorly executed Death From Above 1979 replicas. It just seems awkward for band with such elegantly powerful tracks like “Banquet” and “This Modern Love” to suddenly hand over the reins to some over-cranked distortion.
In spite of these odd stumbles, there are some highlights that feel more organic and natural. “Day Four” is one of the album’s most emotionally charged songs, backed with some gorgeous guitar work from Russell Lissack. “V.A.L.I.S.” seems like a sequel to “Banquet,” with its funky guitar and thumping bass, which is all familiar territory for a band known for having a danceable take on rock music. The real dazzle presented on this album mostly stems from Lissack’s guitar skills, even on the album’s weakest tracks. This is a band, while still highly regarded for their debut, that’s trying to move forward with yet another shift in sound, even if it takes a few steps backward along the way. There are moments on Four that really showcase the promise of what this band could be, as well as what they are not. Bloc Party should be praised for their efforts to escape the continuous reminder of Silent Alarm and develop their sound. Four is fraught with the growing pains from being held to its standard and trying to simultaneously meet those demands while also defying them. A little more tinkering and next time they might just figure it out.
Video: Bloc Party – “Octopus”