The first track on Foster The People’s new sophomore album Supermodel poses an important question: are you what you want to be? Though seemingly posed to the listener, the band – fronted by Mark Foster – spends much of the album attempting to answer this question for themselves. We’ve all heard the tired trope of the second album as a time of transition–a band bursts into the public consciousness and becomes defined based on a small musical glimpse (for Foster The People, their breakout hit “Pumped Up Kicks”). Then they have to wrestle with this limiting definition and try to take ownership of their own identity. Supermodel feels like a bit of an experiment, attempting to expand the band’s musical scope and cement a spot in radio pop while still remaining connected to the curiosity of their debut album Torches – including “Pumped Up Kicks”.
Supermodel is relatively successful as an experiment. Certainly nothing sounds bad – the sunny guitars on “Coming Of Age” feel at home for a summer-morning drive, and the electro pulse on “The Truth” drives the song forward without pushing the listener over the edge. The balance of upbeat dance jams and calmer moments with room for thoughtfulness keep the listener from climbing too high or sinking too low. Mark Foster has looked carefully to his contemporaries for vocal stylings–he is Ezra Koenig-esque on “Are You What You Want to Be?”, and “Goats in Trees” is a close relative to The Kooks’ “She Moves In Her Own Way”. Most of the time, the songs feel close enough to the pop mainstream to be recognizable, without feeling too generic to be interesting.
Yet the album falls short of moving past a palatable experiment, often sliding into feel-good background music rather than commanding the attention and feelings of the listener. This inability may lie with the incessant use of a vocal chorus, which unceasingly dominate a large percentage of the album. The listener fails to hold onto his or her connection with the lead singer because of the constant distraction. It makes sense to open up the vocals to a chorus when appropriate–it can create a sonic scale that carries a song upward. However, it feels like overkill on this project.
The chorus is a smaller issue than the lyrics, a set of pseudo-profound indictments of the “ugly side of capitalism,” as stated by Foster himself. Full of lines like “I tried to live life the way that you wanted me to/never knew the groove, just followed the rules,” the indictment turns to a hypocritical self-criticism – Foster The People isn’t critiquing capitalism, they’re participating fully while still pretending to be outsiders. On a pop album, profundity isn’t necessary, but the shallow attempts feel forced to the listener who takes the time to examine the lyrics. A wise, exciting cultural critique the album is not. A decently executed exploration by a pop band trying to keep evolving? Well, that is exactly how this album comes across.
3.5 out of 5
You can buy Supermodel on Amazon.