Bloc Party’s nine lives

Sometime around 2006, I thought Bloc Party represented our best hope for a British art rock band who could continue to challenge and delight listeners in equal measures. Of course Silent Alarm nodded knowingly to Gang of Four and Wire—but I counted on them having more original tricks up their sleeve. The edgy post-punk displayed on their debut album wasn’t pioneering, but it hinted at greater works ahead, shot through as it was with the textures of post-rock (the intricacies of “So Here We Are”, the moody brewing storm of “Compliments”). The inspired remix album that followed did little to dispel the notion that Bloc Party were forward-thinking and restless.

How wrong I was proved to be.

2008’s Intimacy was dismal, and not worthy of serious discussion, but thinking honestly, the rot started to set in a year earlier, on the patchy A Weekend In The City. There were moments on that album of under-appreciated genius, like the twitchy social commentary of “Hunting For Witches” and the lush but doomed romance of “Kreuzberg”, but there were also some real clangers (chief villain: “Waiting For The 7:18”, with its cringe-inducing couplets). History did not treat that album well: it was at once too naïve (“Sunday”, in all its tepid mawkishness) and yet too knowing (“Song For Clay (Disappear Here)”, full of awkward cultural references).

But through it all, and even as other acts captured the flag that was designed for Bloc Party, I didn’t lose all my faith in the London quartet. Four albums was what I was promised, each representing a different band member’s tastes, and four albums I was damned if I didn’t get. When frontman Kele Okereke released a solo effort in 2010, some thought that promise was truly dead. What did they know?

Later this year, Bloc Party return, to make good on that promise. Four, produced by Alex Newport and released on Frenchkiss Records, must surely be the redemption of Bloc Party—or else. Talented musicians have more room for manœuvre when they mis-step, but only so many times. A cat is said to have nine lives; an “Octopus”, far fewer, but near-human levels of intelligence.

The pedal-meddling is here, and so is the existential dread. The hatefully basic electronics are dispensed with; ditto the blocky digital rhythms. “Octopus” is enough of a return to form that you can forgive Russell Lissack that bizarre EQ-ed guitar solo, seemingly beamed in from a Daft Punk cast-off circa Discovery. As on Silent Alarm, the references in the lyrics seem casual yet earned—see how Okereke brushes aside “Psycho killer, teen dream…” in the pursuit of his grisly urban vision. Later on, in an echo of the “Helicopter”‘s tossed-away “Stop being so American… So James Dean, So blue jeans”, he rattles through John Wayne and Rob Roy before deciding that his anti-hero is peerless—”You done, Lost your mind”, he concedes.

There’s even a girl called Marianna.

I hardly want to tempt fate by fêting Four on the evidence of one song. Maybe that means I’d like to call Bloc Party’s bluff. But “Octopus” feels exciting and lived-in, and I want this new album to vindicate the sliver of faith I kept in this band.

“Octopus” by Bloc Party is taken from the forthcoming album Four, to be released on 20th August via Frenckiss Records. The single sees release on 13th August, b/w “Straight Thru Cru”.

2 thoughts on “Bloc Party’s nine lives

  1. thanks for this… you made it 100% clearer for me why I still listens to bloc arty

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