Lost in all the eagerness to call Bloc Party’s bluff on Four — “revisionist history,” “band propaganda,” according to Pitchfork — or hail it as a “return to form” is a very simple facet of the album that makes it unique among their discography: Four is the the first Bloc Party album that sounds spontaneous.
Self-conscious tape hiss and studio banter aside, Bloc Party is playing in a fashion they simply haven’t before. Much has been made of the blunt grunge-metal riffing of songs like “Kettling” and “So He Begins to Lie,” songs that rock in a very different fashion from the band’s early “angular” days on Silent Alarm or even the glitchy, post-millennial riffs of A Weekend in the City highlight “Hunting for Witches,” and whether or not they belong on a Bloc Party album.
Whether or not we like our Bloc Party in flannel, credit the band for finally daring to let go of the legacy imposed by their zeitgeist-y debut and subsequent attempts at this generation’s answer to Radiohead and just play what they’ve been listening to lately: That would be Nirvana, according to Kele Okereke, as well as Smashing Pumpkins and Deep Purple, by the sound of it. Neither should it be lost that guitarist Russell Lissack did do a touring stint with Ash — no strangers to metal — while Bloc Party was on hiatus. The result is the sound of a band rediscovering their teenage guitars and getting on with it.
Speaking of Radiohead, “3x3” is the kind of serrated knife attack the world’s still patiently waiting for from Thom Yorke and company. Subsequently, “Real Talk,” with it’s banjo flourishes and major-minor groove, would have sounded right at home on Hail to the Thief and The Invisible Band.
Kele Okereke, whose voices was starting to grate considerably by Intimacy, proves to be a nimble guide through the 90s alt rock homage as it settles toward the back of the mix or else silkily hovers over the prettier material like “Truth” and “The Healing.”
Four may lack the focus of previous records, but it’s also the first Bloc Party to sprinkle the quality evenly throughout (it seems fair to say previous efforts were heavily front-loaded, with most of their best songs residing within the first four album tracks), precisely because it wishes to prove no point other than its sheer existence. Whether it proves to be a sign of things to come or simply a necessary excursion, Four finds a band still capable of surprising itself, even as Silent Alarm continues to recede in the rearview.