With their heart-on-sleeve lyricism and towering guitar melodies, Bloc Party has never been known for ambiguity. Which is why it might come as a surprise that their latest offering, Four, is such a murky affair, beset by the same uncertainty that plagued the band prior to the album's release. While questions surrounding Bloc Party's potential breakup have slowly dissipated, for the first time in their decade-long existence, the band seems genuinely uncertain as to what kind of music they want to make. The egotistical pissing contests and in-fighting that followed 2008's Intimacy have clearly taken a creative toll on the quartet, and though Four does contain some sweet spots, it's largely an exercise in throwing projectiles at the proverbial wall with the hopes that something, anything, will stick.
Four is a vacant display of miscellany, a rather depressing scenario considering its makers were once genre-definers. Despite largely ditching the sequencers and samplers of the fuzz-drenched Intimacy for the familiar guitar sounds of the band's first two albums, Bloc Party hasn't managed to recapture its post-punk niche. Instead, the band pairs its aggressive rock maneuvers ("3X3," "So He Begins to Lie") with half-hearted feints at bluesiness ("Coliseum") and Strokes-style garage pop ("Team A"), in effect attempting everything but excelling at nothing. It's a far cry from the uptempo, handclapping displays of energy from the Silent Alarm era, where the urgency at the center of the band's racing music was, if at times histrionic, always genuine.
The fact is that Bloc Party isn't an air-kicking, hard-edged rock band. The group's natural strengths lie in bubbly, Cure-inspired dance-pop, and so when they attempt the kind of chunked-out alternative Foo rock that imbues Four, it comes off as unnatural, awkward, and, worst of all, insincere. The only time the band finds a worthwhile muse is by returning to the old Silent Alarm formula, that effervescent mix of light percussion, darting guitar lines, and yelps that characterizes "V.A.L.I.S." and, to a lesser extent, the much mellower "The Healing." Both are derivative, to be sure, but they remain the only displays of kineticism on an otherwise comatose album. Sadly, it seems the dynamism that once defined Bloc Party now defies them.