In real world terms Foster The People have been away for three years, with no major output since the 2011 release of Torches. But in music industry terms, when artists are expected to churn out an album a year, lest they be consigned to the ranks of ‘that one good song I heard on Radio 1 once’ this equals a life time. Before the announcement of new album, Supermodel, Foster The People were in danger of being remembered as the band that recorded Pumped Up Kicks, and after the new album drops in a few days time… well, they may still be. I’m not saying it’s bad by any stretch, and after half a dozen listens I’ve come to the conclusion that Supermodel is a perfectly fine specimen of an indie band’s second album – but there’s nothing ground-breaking about it.
Let me start properly by laying down some of the snap observations I made upon first listen:
1. Wow, sounds like they’ve jumped right on board Damon’s Africa Express train. I’m not sure how to feel about this.
2. Sounds pretty much exactly how you would expect a Foster The People album to sound.
3. Ooh, the obligatory second album acoustic track there!
4. It’s kind of synth-y and kind of rock-y, I think I quite like it.
Now to flesh out my razor sharp witticisms with actual person sentences. The Africa Express style track is album opener Are You What You Want To Be?, which I could imagine being played on an episode of Skins until it gets to the one minute mark and suddenly develops an Afrobeat undertone. I actually think it would be a much better song if it committed to the African influence completely, as this is an avenue that seems to really work for the unique tone of Mark Foster’s voice. This is followed by four tracks that sound so very Foster The People that they all sort of merge into one really long Torches off-cut, except with more interspersed random clapping.
The songs with the most unnecessary names are the best. Goats In Trees is inflected with classic Americana (but don’t ask me what the lyrics are about, I spent too much time wondering over the imagery of the title to notice) while I actually really like A Beginners Guide To Destroying The Moon (except it’s such a stupidly hipster title that it ruins it). Fire Escape is slow and hypnotic, providing a pseudo comedown before the highlight of the album in closer, Tabloid Super Junkie; all samples and bleeps interwoven in your classic guitar/drum/lyric musical trinity.
There are standout tracks on Supermodel – poorly chosen titles aside – but as a whole I’m not sure it entirely works. Lead single, Coming Of Age, boldly proclaims that “it feels like a coming of age”, but if that’s the case then Foster The People are still trying to work out if they want to be an astronaut or a dragon. It just doesn’t really make any sense. Songs 1 to 5 have all the makings of an album, and then, after the surreal 20 second choir harmony-like interlude of The Angelic Welcome Of Mr Jones, it suddenly becomes a bit experimental. Best Friend is jazzy while The Truth sounds two parts classic Foster The People, and one part pure 90s disco, as if they’d recorded Helena Beat at the end of a very messy night at Ministry Of Sound. A Beginners Guide… on the other hand is almost inexplicable in terms of style or genre. Seriously, listening to it I just wrote heavy, rock, synth-y and a bit TV On The Radio all in one long stream of consciousness outpouring; a little how I imagine Foster made Supermodel. It’s almost as if they recorded two albums, couldn’t decide which was better, and just sandwiched them together for good measure. It’s deeply confusing and strangely hypnotic, but it doesn’t quite work as a complete whole. The second half is where the intrigue lies, but even that is patchy and a little disappointing due to the fact that it’s filled with so much promise that doesn’t entirely deliver.