“Can’t shake the feeling we’re moving backwards,” sings Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke over de-tuned acoustic strums on “Coliseum,” moments before his band launches into a nasty blues-metal stomp. In a way, his intuition is spot-on: On Four, Bloc Party’s fourth overall album (and first in four years), these former indie-rock poster boys have re-harnessed the urgent, anthemic sound that catapulted their debut, 2005′s Silent Alarm, into the critical limelight.
It’s been ages since Bloc Party has “rocked” in any sense of the word: Their 2007 sophomore effort, A Weekend in the City, was plagued by self-conscious attempts at political lyricism and art-rock atmospherics, while 2008′s Intimacy was the exact opposite of intimate, filled with bloated electronic experimentation that de-fused the band’s explosive strengths. But Four wastes absolutely no time setting the record straight, blaring out of the gate with “So He Begins To Lie,” a startlingly raw epic built on the quartet’s aggressive “live in the room” communion: Matt Tong’s caffeinated drum cacophony, Gordon Moakes’ distorted bass, and the crossfire riff telepathy between Okereke and guitarist Russell Lissack.
But Four isn’t defined by nostalgic backward glances: Bloc Party may have returned to a more linear style of indie-rock, but they’re also evolving sonically. “Real Talk” is surprisingly sexy, Okereke flexing a soulful falsetto over restrained guitar effects and — get this — a banjo. The verses on “V.A.L.I.S.” are driven by ping-ponging stabs of trebly electric guitar (perhaps the band’s stylistic trademark), but they’re crafted in service of groove, rather than nervous propulsion; the chorus, meanwhile, is a delectable ’80s yacht-pop sing-along. “The future’s ours,” Okereke proclaims during the metallic rush of “Kettling,” his shouts swallowed by monstrous waves of distortion. “We can feel it in our bones!” For the first time in years, that optimism feels well-earned.