There's something deliberately inauspicious about Bloc Party's latest release. It's not just the minimalist artwork - merely a series of concentric circles - or the title, stating nothing more than that this is, indeed, the group's fourth album. Consider the opening 15 seconds of the LP, which feature an aborted studio take and the frontman Kele Okereke asking: "Have you got that already?" with all the rock star charisma of someone attempting to buy a pint of milk. It's as if the group, who have struggled for years to recapture the glory of their 2005 debut Silent Alarm, are now desperate to lower our expectations.
This is made all the more unusual in light of the fact that Four can legitimately be called a comeback record, with the hiatus since 2008's disappointing Intimacy filled by a series of side projects. If deliberately underwhelming their fans was the idea, the band needn't have bothered with the aforementioned title, cover art or false start - the songs themselves do a thoroughly adequate job of alienating the listener.
Take the opener So He Begins to Lie, filled with crunchy alt rock guitars. Okereke has said Nirvana have inspired his songwriting of late - but the song has none of the urgency or heart that the grunge titans effortlessly exuded, let alone the hooks. The heavy riffs return on Kettling, yet another indie band's meditation on the London riots which ends up offering precisely nothing, and 3x3, which serves as a rare reminder of the group's deeply forgettable second record.
There are occasional glimmers of the band at their best, however. The reflective Day Four has a delicacy reminiscent of their early hit So Here We Are, and the gorgeous closer The Healing provides further evidence of why the group should listen to New Order rather than Nirvana while writing songs. But Four's only truly great moment is the first single, Octopus, a tightly sprung electro rock number that almost recaptures the dancefloor magnetism of the band's signature tune, Banquet.
This record could have been Bloc Party's opportunity to show they still matter - a tough job for any guitar group in 2012 - but instead of returning reinvigorated, they seem more lost then ever. This is made all the more painful by the fact that, as a few of the songs clearly demonstrate, the group are not yet a spent force.
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