Review: Foster The People

March 23, 2014

The difficult second album has proved a speed bump for a number of bands that delivered sugary indie-pop debuts. MGMT, The Ting Tings, and Franz Ferdinand all tripped at the foot of disappointing sophomore efforts—a potential fate that no doubt loomed over Foster The People as they created Supermodel.

Upon first listen of the follow-up to 2011’s Torches, it seems as though Foster The People have succumbed to the same troubles as the aforementioned. The psychedelic, ’70s rock aura sounds miles away from the honeycomb pop that first introduced the band to the masses. A less clean-cut approach buries any remnants of their debut’s driving, electro-pop, leaving you with a record that doesn’t sound anywhere near as fun.

It takes a while to let go, but once you accept that you’re now dealing with a band that have been catapulted to a much larger arena (no pun intended), subsequent listens allow Supermodel to open up with subtle melody, nostalgic value, and expansive soundscapes.

In interviews, helmsman of the band Mark Foster indicated that he wanted the follow-up to sound more organic, and that he’s accomplished. The pop quaintness of Torches has been disposed of in favour a raw, guitar-driven sound reminiscent of the Kinks and even Tame Impala.

The band’s intent to head for a different sound is apparent throughout the record. Foster’s proclaimed favourite song on the album, A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying The Moon, is the heaviest track the band has ever produced—a warped, stadium-sized rock track that at times has Foster sounding like Trent Reznor. Album opener, Are You What You Want To Be? is another departure, with island-flavoured verses preceding Brit-rock choruses you’d expect from The Rolling Stones.

Watch: Foster The People – Coming of Age

The downbeat moments are the hardest to latch onto, but bloom gracefully after a few listens. Ask Yourself is a tender and beautifully layered acoustic number, while The Truth is an anxiety-stricken track driven by a rollicking drum-beat. However, bizarre vocals singing “There is a truth, I can promise you that” make the latter somewhat melodramatic.

For an album that is ultimately more challenging than its predecessor, it is surprisingly better suited to an arena setting. The first single, Coming of Age, perfectly lends itself to a grand, smartphone-lit venue. It’s instrumentally expansive while still offering a big melodic hug through warm harmonies and percussion.

Despite spots of individual greatness, as a whole, Supermodel suffers from being too inconsistent. It rolls from psychedelic rock, to straight-up alt-pop, to warped electronica, with no binding thread. Its missteps sound like attempts at finding something more emotionally complex that ultimately end up lacking depth. Nevermind sounds like hotel lobby accompaniment dressed with boho styling, while Fire Escape is a pleasant but ultimately forgettable ballad, based around an ineffective “I am a fire escape” metaphor.

Supermodel is certainly not the fall from grace that Congratulations was for MGMT, but it’s unlikely to hold onto the numbers that became enamoured with Torches. Minus the gloss and in-your-face melodies, Supermodel is a much less immediate listen. But given the chance, it reveals itself to be an enjoyable if not slightly over-thought follow-up.

Foster The People’s ‘Supermodel’ is out now. Follow all the latest Foster The People news at our special Feed.