Interspersed between the tracks on Bloc Party’s Four are snippets of studio chatter, included with the intention of giving the album a raw, “live” feel. But when contrasted with the album’s slick production, they feel out of place, as if someone forgot to excise them during the editing process, but the band just said “good enough” and left them in. In fact, “good enough” is an apt description for the entire album. Four is certainly an enjoyable listen, but is it excellent? I’m not so sure.
When I say that Four is “good enough,” I don’t mean to imply that Bloc Party is lazy. Far from it, in fact. Every song is pieced together with the level of craftsmanship that listeners have come to expect from the band. The rhythm section, composed of bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong, displays an almost workmanlike precision. Guitarist Russell Lissack demonstrates considerable skill in playing angular riffs. Even frontman Kele Okereke’s vocals have improved, his erstwhile off-key wail having morphed into something of a croon, and he shows off his beautiful falsetto on a few cuts, most notably the gorgeous “Real Talk.” There is not a note on the album without purpose, and I wouldn’t be surprised if every song that ended up on the record went through several iterations before the band members were satisfied.
But I can’t shake the idea that this isn’t the best set of song ideas that Bloc Party could have thought up. This is the band’s least adventurous and ambitious record yet, to the point of being downright atavistic. It’s basically Silent Alarm 2: More Distortion and Bigger Bass. That the band would release this as their follow-up to Intimacy is perplexing, to the say the least. It’s as if the Bloc Party suddenly developed a fear for keyboards and electronics.
The heavier sound doesn’t really work either. It’s quite appealing on the Switchfoot-esque “Kettling,” but on cuts like “We Are Not Good People,” it feels excessive, and it turns “Coliseum,” the album’s lone awful track, which starts off promisingly as a roots rock stomper, into what could be mistaken for a Nickelback b-side.
That being said, the album truly shines in its softer moments, with “Truth” and “The Healing” being some of the band’s best work. The former’s expansive sound wouldn’t have sounded out of place on A Weekend in the City, while the latter’s use of stripped-down instrumentation with reverb makes it sound a bit like a “Biko” rewrite. Both tracks demonstrate the band’s knack for textured, layered songwriting.
So overall, Four is an enjoyable album, though not exactly awe-inspiring. All of the tracks, save “Coliseum,” work to varying degrees. But it lacks that extra spark that makes a truly great album. I hate to say it, but maybe Bloc Party just needed to write better songs, or at least songs that flowed better together. Sure, the tracks are “good enough,” but the album plays more like a collection of songs than a coherent artistic statement, like previous efforts A Weekend in the City or Intimacy. Heck, even the album’s title, Four, is unimaginative. It’s their fourth album, geddit? Har har har. But I suppose that title is “good enough.” Similarly, I’d wrote more for this review, but I think it’s “good enough” as is too.