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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bloc Party: Four


BLOC PARTY: FOUR (2012)

1) So He Begins To Lie; 2) 3x3; 3) Octopus; 4) Real Talk; 5) Kettling; 6) Day Four; 7) Coliseum; 8) V.A.L.I.S; 9) Team A; 10) Truth; 11) The Healing; 12) We Are Not Good People; 13*) Mean; 14*) Leaf Skeleton.

Let it not be insinuated any further that ambitious indie work horses cannot take lessons. A bloc party has to learn to compromise, and this here Bloc Party, clearly taken aback at the generally less than tepid reaction to Intimacy, wisely refuses to continue the Intimacy line unabated. With a three year break and some sunken solo projects behind them, the original four, still tight as a nutshell, finally return to make a new album called... Four. Well, actually, it isn't called anything — it just draws four electron orbits on the front cover. But since it is the fourth album by four band members, that's what everybody calls it anyway.

The good news: not only did they get rid of excessive electronics, they are also trying desperately to remember what it was that made their debut album so successful — in particular, crunchy gui­tar riffs are back, and so are the complex, precise, powerhouse drum dramas of Matthew Tong. Memories of Silent Alarm do spring out of all corners, with enough stylistic changes retained so as not to invoke «carbon copy» accusations. The bad news: Four is still a much worse album than Silent Alarm, and there is very little reason to bother oneself with any Bloc Party album that is much worse than Silent Alarm — life is too short and all.

The main problem is that, even after introducing reasonable quotas on the use of synthesizers, Okereke and friends did not completely reverse the tendency. On their first record, they were still very much within the «punk» idiom — brutal, kill-'em-all riffs coupled with targeted shotgun blasts from the drums and a singer who was, perhaps, a bit «whiney», but dangerous all the same (you don't mess with the Igbo!). Then they started drifting farther and farther into «artsy» territo­ry, where they never properly felt at home — and Four still sees them trying to woo you with upbeat intelligence rather than brute force.

Already the first track, ʽSo He Begins To Lieʼ, lets its potentially cool combo of «broken» hard rock riffage and percussion rhythms be underwhelmed by vocals excessively disguised with echo effects, murky guitar tones, and noisy «anthemic» sections. They may be trying to go for a Cure-style atmosphere, but if so, they are lazy — Robert Smith would invest extra dozens of hours and at least several additional counter-melodies in this stuff, not to mention making all them fit toge­ther; these guys just do a bunch of «outer space guitar trills» that we have already heard a million times — and hope to inspire us that way. Thanks, guys; I already have my ʽFrom The Edge Of The Deep Green Seaʼ and I am sticking to it.

At other times, they succeed in getting more of a «self» thing going on, but then you sort of don't know what it is, exactly. ʽOctopusʼ, the lead single, for instance — what is it? A power pop num­ber? Why place the «jammed PC speaker» effect in the center of attention, then? An ode to teen insanity? Why do I have to guess that by scrutinizing the lyrics, what's wrong with the atmo­sphere itself? An aggressive rocker? Why the nursery rhyme approach to the chorus? «Happi­ness», «sadness», «anger», «joy», «depression», «melancholy» — none of the standard emotional tags seem to fit, and I'm all out of non-standard ones. It is sort of a curious creation, but I get a strong feeling that it was created blindly — and that the final result is more «frustrating», or at least «confusing», than «revelatively unusual».

A couple of the numbers are real heavy rockers: ʽColiseumʼ (starts out like a dark acoustic blues number, then goes into noise-rock territory but with a metal riff at the heart) and the very last track — ʽWe Are Not Good Peopleʼ, picking up speed and pinned to a riff that seems to be a cre­ative variation on Anthrax's ʽCaught In A Moshʼ or any such-sounding tune (must be lots of 'em). They are, predictably, quite well executed, but the «artsy» bug spoils them anyway — because the production, honestly, sounds awful in both cases. With all the echoes, multi-tracking, and «felt, but not heard» electronic undertones (they're there, aren't they?), the in-yer-face brutality is undermined, and subtlety is not gained anyway.

Overall, this is a strange case: Four seems more «mature» than their preceding albums, but in this maturity, a basic sense of purpose is somehow lost. Yes, it is still the sound of four bright, de­pressed, disillusioned, disoriented young lads locked in an urban jungle, that much I get. If they want to emphasize the senselessness of their urban existence by making senseless music, I sup­pose they got every right to do so. But senseless music is being made before our eyes in virtual tons every day without any subtext to it anyway — why should we need senseless music from a supposedly «intelligent» rock band?

There are albums by brilliant artists out there that succeed in marrying the opposites. Bloc Party are simply not talented enough to make it work — too artsy to be «punk», too basic to be «art», too limp to bring your spirit to a boil, too clumsy to conjure subtle beauty, too turn-of-the-century depressed to bring their musical structure experiments to successful conclusions, too musically smart-for-their-own-good to evoke basic heartfelt reactions. They have a little bit of everything — this is not an awful album, and, like I said, at least it beats the hell out of the awful Inti­macy — but I have no desire whatsoever to write about these, ultimately very boring, songs. I do admit that this is a highly subjective situation, though, so if ever you were an admiring fan of Bloc Party, do not take my word for it: for everybody who had Silent Alarm as an A+, Four will just have to be at least a B-, or higher.

Check "Four" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Four" (MP3) on Amazon

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