Music Feature

Counterpoint/Counterpoint - Bloc Party's "Four"

Neal Christyson and Steven Casimer Kowalski
S: First sentence I am just going to say it; I like this record. There are a couple duds which I am sure to get to later but, overall, this is most connected I've felt to a Bloc Party record since Silent Alarm. I've read a handful of reviews for it and the consensus seems to be, ‘meh.’ I'm not sure I understand why. Everyone seems to mention how "heavy" the record is(it isn't) and then they segue into lengthy narration about how this was a band that many had thought were finished(no one thought that). Listen, this isn't the best thing I've heard this year. But I have been seriously waning on Bloc Party album by album. I remember Silent Alarm really blowing us both away seven years ago(damn) and well, for me, everything since has been yet another step down. Certain drops were more subtle than others but by the time Intimacy-Remixed arrived I'd just had enough. So sure, context is important and maybe my praise for this record is based more on relief than quality but really, fuck all that, the first track on Four is so rad. Your thoughts?

N: I couldn't be happier to read that you like this album. Mostly because I don't, but I really want to be convinced otherwise. I remember when Silent Alarm came out. It was right around the time when bands like Franz Ferdinand, Kasabian, and others were also making waves. There was a distinct conversation I remember having in which someone declared it the second Brit-Pop explosion. The rebuttal being that the only band anyone would still care about 5 years from then was Bloc Party(high five). I still care about Bloc Party. I still love Silent Alarm, and I still love A Weekend In the City. I didn't dislike Intimacy but iTunes tells me I only listened to it a total of three times. I worry that Four is going to have the same fate. Which is sad because I really want to like this album. I just don't see myself listening to it outside the context of this review. The first song is pretty great and it left me excited to hear the songs that follow. It's big and fast, choppy and organized. It's a damn good song. Track 2, 3x3, as soon as he started whispering, all excitement the first song gave me was disappeared. That song I just can't get into to. It's silly.

S: I am surprised you aren't feeling it. Earlier I almost set up my argument based on songs 1-3 instead of just that first track. You're pushing me to reconsider but I’m doubling down on Four. Full disclosure, some(all) of my love here is more pride than anything else. I want this album to be good. Aren't we always hoping bands that have been lagging will return to form and wow us? It doesn't happen often which makes sense because usually what fans consider a "return to form" would be, for a band, a redo. Maybe the most prominent musical decent of my generation was Metallica who put out 4 of the best metal albums ever and then got mega famous and made Load. For years I wanted them to recover and now, even if they did, I wouldn't give a shit. In fact, it would be weird if they starting hitting the same notes. If Metallica's next record was an all out thrash-ripper you couldn't do anything that would get me excited about it. That time has passed. That kid who liked Metallica is gone. With Bloc Party, I haven’t yet eclipsed my own interest.. And that's feeding into my liking this record. I want to appreciate it on its own terms but I certainly can't. What's fucked is that there are bands whose triumphs and failures were before my pop culture awakening and I have no problem appreciating their entire catalog. I’ll even go as far as saying I find the failures more interesting than the successes. The Who's Face Dances is a good example. I actually like that record. I like Sell's Out too but Face Dances is such a weird mess that it's the one I listen too more. I doubt there will ever be a day I say the same thing about Load or Intimacy. And it would be much more convenient going forward if Bloc Party would just make records I could 100% hate.

N: On that regard, I have recently had the experience of a band's "return to form" so to speak. And I'm sure by now you might be tired of hearing of my revelations with The Walkmen however, they have set a benchmark for other bands contextually. I loved their first two albums when they came out, didn't care for / pay attention to the next three they released, and with their last two (Lisbon and Heaven) I simply cannot get enough of how great I think they are. As a result I feel like I want every band I liked who has put out a boring album to give me that feeling. Bloc Party definitely fit into that category and maybe because I want this to be really good, I want this album to blow me away, I'm judging it on a harder scale? There are some songs on this album I think I really enjoy, but as a whole it's super uneven. I like the song Real Talk, but then Kettling comes next and that song sounds like what would happen in English art school kids tried to write a P.O.D. song. Then the song Day Four, I really like it. I always thought what Bloc Party did best was writing ballads. The singer has such a great voice it literally upsets me how they have been burying it in the mix in favor of the increasing distorted guitar sounds. Day Four is great and I could see myself listening to that song a lot this fall, but then right after that comes Coliseum. And boy is that song a clunker in my book. The Bon Jovi - Wanted Dead Or Alive intro section, followed by the over done almost Nu-Metal guitar parts. It's just not for me. But then it follows with V.A.L.I.S. which I think I like. I also like Truth and The Healing. So that's what, five songs out of 12 that I like? Honestly, more than it feels like when I listen to the album. I want that to be enough, but it certainly doesn't feel like it.

S: Strong words, Neal. And that P.O.D. line is a low blow. My ears hear Kettling as a good attempt at a stadium jam. And maybe it sounds canned to you because Bloc Party really aren't a stadium band. It's never really been in their make-up to go for the arena. That isn't to say they haven't been ambitious but I am not holding my breath for a Bloc Party, Live at Budokan. Coliseum is a strange track, I don't know where that country-blues guitar riff fits into Four as a record. It is a sore thumb for sure. But after that the album closes down with a 5 track stretch from V.A.L.I.S. through We Are Not Good People which I think are all quality. They stand up as background as well as under scrutiny and if I needed to pick a reason for giving this record approval I'd ask people to look right that stretch of songs. They leave me with a good feeling and, in their own ways, demonstrate what's great about Bloc Party. My standout is Truth. The whole track is wound up nice and tight, Okereke's vocals are about as good as they've ever been. And maybe most important there is genuine romance and sentiment here. One thing about Bloc Party that I've always appreciated but failed to mention thus far is their naked romanticism. Some of their best songs are almost shamefully sweet. Truth is no different. It is almost impossible to imagine a grown man wrote it. Okereke and I are the same age and I don't have single drop of romance left in me. I am glad he still has some so I can leech it. This is a good record.

N: So the P.O.D. line may have been a little much. I was riled up and on a roll. However, the feeling still stands. What you said about the romance and sentiment, I think is spot on. It's essentially what I was alluding to by talking about Bloc Party being a band I loved for their ballads. They are at their best when they are writing songs which make you feel like, not only is it ok, but it's totally normal and wonderful to fall in love with someone you walk by on the street. Which is endlessly comforting to me because I feel like it happens a lot and it’s probably not healthy. Truth is clearly the standout song on the album. It's just a wonderful song, plain and simple. In many regards you have softened my criticism of this album, which I’m eternally thankful for. Here is my final issue though. The last five songs would have made a great EP. This album has 12 songs. If I reach for it, I can say that I like 7 songs, more than half but certainly not an exemplary count. And if I scrutinize a little bit harder, I can find three songs (Real Talk, Truth, and The Healing) which I would put up against songs from Silent Alarm or A Weekend In The City. Frankly, I don't know if any of those but Truth could really even hold up to that comparison. So you can direct people all you want to those last 5 songs (which for the record, We're Not Good People is not a good song) but the album still has 7 other songs on it. I'm not completely out of the Bloc Party business, and I am looking forward to seeing what they do on album five. This album however, is not good.