After a break-up make-up sex is either a big mistake or a brilliant idea. And there’s the same level of uncertainty when bands re-unite to create new music after a hiatus. The latest release from Bloc Party kicks off in interesting fashion with the band retaining a studio conversation about needing to do a re-take of the first bars of So He Begins To Lie. The song continues with plenty of scale-descending riffs and hi-hat heavy percussion that’s full of impact. The combination of Okereke’s voice and the fuzzy, buzzy guitars gives the verses a Britpop feel. But the breakdown is heavy as hell, veering to post-punk territory. The album’s themes (observation/voyeurism, truth and conflict) begin with the very first track: “the camera’s watching him lie”.
3X3 has its lyrics whispered sinisterly against angular guitar lines. The combination of threat and unfiltered desire builds through each verse (“no one loves you as much as I” … “now you’re one of us” … “no means no”) until Okereke duets with himself in a contradictory call and response that veers between the whispered “No” and the full-lung expulsion of “Yeeeeeeeesssssss”. The climax of the track externalizes an internalized struggle of someone who is deeply conflicted and then finally released. In total contrast V.A.L.I.S. is bright, shiny indie pop. It’s light and melodic, but even here the lyrics reflect a divided self as Okereke sings as two people: “he is not the real me but I can hear him from my future”.
Real Talk is a more tender approach to the idea of passion and the self – a halting confession about finding out what it means to belong: “you’re my one and only friend; watch the sunset from your sedan, let your hand rest on mine”. Day Four is another thoughtful reflection. It gradually builds from the opening lyric: “it’s in the trees, in the leaves, this time I know I’ll stay clean”. The guitars here just work as a pulse that punctuates the vocal melody. Truth is another tender number that works against the conflict elsewhere on the record. Here, the freedom of honesty is simply, plainly, vocalized, “I am yours respectfully… truthfully”.
But tenderness is a rare thing on Four. Octopus reflects on our consumption of a violent culture “psycho killer turned into an action film”, whilst the clockwork repetition of guitars on Team A underscores a quiet threat, “I’m gonna ruin your life”. Kettling is set to become the defining sound of Bloc Party’s comeback. The title and lyrics reflect on last year’s city riots: “we smash the window… camera takes pictures on us, we just laugh because they can’t stop this”. But the song isn’t a detailed evocation of civil unrest, instead it takes the metaphor of revolution to invoke liberation: “we drop the lighter into the gas…if the whole world is watching let them watch, the future’s ours”. It’s not just the fresh-in-the-mind memories of actual events that makes this an immediate song, it’s the big winding riffs and punchy percussion that makes Kettling have a direct impact.
Coliseum is a wildcard of a track. Timing shifts shake things up when the song changes tack from a blues-infused acoustic guitar opening to a loud unswerving guitar and percussion volley after the line: “the empire never ended”. It drives around in alarming directions and its startling shifts make it one of the most exciting songs on the record.
The Healing is a slow number near the end of the collection. Its careful vocals and discrete guitars are in total contrast to the buzzsaw action and riffs of much of the rest of Four. But the album closes on a louder, braggadaccio note with We’re Not Good People. Okereke is unrestrained in his vocal performance here, with squeals and shouts giving a crazed explosive energy to the song’s delivery: “today’s the day you’ve been set free”.
Those final two tracks typify an album full of contrasts: quiet and loud, intimate and epic, personal and political. The urgency and vehemence of Fourmarks Bloc Party’s successful return. It seems like getting back together was a great idea after all.