From the opening track it’s quite clear that Foster The People’s ‘Supermodel’ is quite a different beast from their debut album ‘Torches’. In terms of production, significantly so. While ‘Torches’ was a cleanly-produced affair, all drum machines, keyboards and distorted bloopy sounds that didn’t appear to come out of any known instrument, ‘Supermodel’ is much more organic-sounding, primarily guitar-led this time round, with actual drum kits and everything.
What hasn’t changed is the genre-defying nature of their music. When ‘Torches’ came out in 2011, many were no doubt scratching their heads over how to describe it. It sounded something like the future. Was it dance? Was it pop? Was it indie? Many did what any other sensible person would do, and consigned them to the vast and ever growing other folder that is the Alternative Music category.
This does present a problem however – for a band that melds so many sounds and influences, how can we know exactly what it is that makes them who they are? And unfortunately, this is a problem that dogs ‘Supermodel’.
Take opening track Are You What You Want To Be?, for example. I’ve already mentioned that there has been a significant transformation in style. Well, this track sounds more like early Vampire Weekend than anything else, with its frenetic guitar riffing, funky beat and chirpy vocals. It’s a little disorientating – even Mark Foster’s vocals sound totally different. It’s like they’ve had a full band transplant.
Ask Yourself continues in a similar, sunny guitar-led vein. On this new album, quirky electronic flourishes have mostly been pushed to the background.
It’s not until third track Coming Of Age that we hear anything that sounds distinctly Foster The People. It’s all heavenly vocals, self-reflective lyrics, and a chorus that hooks right into your brain, with a cool distorted guitar riff as a Brucie bonus.
Sure, there are many cool touches on this album, but in their effort to evolve in sound, they’ve lost something special. There are far fewer of the hooks that made the first album so strong. Nevermind, for example, is uncharacteristically downtempo.
Meanwhile, the last songs on the album take a somewhat sombre turn. A Beginner’s Guide To Destroying The Moon is uncharacteristically angsty: “I’m staring at the moon, wondering why the bottom fell out”. Indeed.
Final track Fire Escape is completely stripped back, completely acoustic. There is no pretence. Foster sings about the ‘ocean of sin’ that is LA. It sounds like a warning. “Save yourself”, he sings, again and again.
It hurts me to say this, but Foster The People no longer sound like the future. It’s been too long since ‘Torches’ – three years in fact. The world has caught up since then. Along with that, the album seems unsure of what it wants to be: too many influences swirl together and fail to create something that hangs together as well as their debut.