Though you may have missed it amidst the onslaught of “Pumped Up Kicks” during the summer of 2011, Foster the People are far from a one-hit wonder. While their smash single vaulted them onto the charts and into the pop culture ethos, their debut album Torches was a worthy release in its own right.
That album was chock full of excitement and promise, propelling the band to the front an indie rock pack that was toeing the line of mainstream pop. The fact that their latest release, Supermodel, fails to capitalize on this momentum or expand on band’s freakish ability to write thoughtful, dark, yet oddly accessible pop songs is a bit of a disappointment, even if the album isn’t a total flop.
All this to say – Supermodel is pretty okay, especially in the moments when it stops trying so hard. During the album, Foster the People repeatedly show flashes of brilliance right before they trip over their own shoelaces.
It’s clear that Mark Foster has been hardened by his time in Los Angeles, as the subject matter throughout Supermodel veers wildly across a myriad of societal sins. The album art depicts a starlet vomiting self-deprecating poetry in front of an audience of paparazzi. The songs themselves touch on everything from the problems of capitalism (“A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon”) to the dark balance of phony Hollywood relationships (“Best Friend”).
What is unclear is why Foster has chosen to tell each chapter of this dark story with a different soundtrack, but the album’s inability to find a landing spot proves to be not only slightly off-putting, but surprisingly tedious at times.
Almost all of the songs push toward or beyond the five minute mark, often overstaying their welcome. On “Nevermind”, Foster takes a rather delightful melody and drives it into the ground during an extended outro that finds him humming the melody kazoo-like. “Goats in Trees” is an unexpected acoustic number that wears itself out over a minute before the song actually ends.
So what is there to like on Supermodel?
To begin with, Foster the People appear to understand song composition quite well, even though they attack many of these conventions with overkill. Psychedelic pop track “Pseudologia Fantastica” may be about a minute and a half too long, but it features much of the catchy songwriting that made the band so fun to begin with and showcases Foster’s signature falsetto to near-perfection.
“Best Friend” captures the poppy bounce of Torches tracks like “Helena Beat” atop of its heavy subject matter. Lead single “Coming of Age” is a building number that hits a crescendo when Foster lets loose, belting the final chorus. An odd excitement for sure, seeing as how the song concludes that apathy and boredom are our generation’s sure signs of maturity.
What keeps these moments from making Supermodel an incredible sophomore album is that they’re just that – moments. While Torches crackled beneath the surface throughout, Supermodel is an overreaching project that seems bloated with potential but too caught up in itself to realize it.
The subject matter is certainly not the issue – Foster made a name for himself via a catchy summer single written from the mind of a homicidal youth. The juxtaposition of Torches dark lyrics with its lively and dancey backdrop made the band leaders of the thoughtful, quirky post-modern rock movement.
Supermodel douses itself in bleakness, forcing itself to be a challenging listen, even to the point of ignoring the band’s greatest strengths. On “Coming of Age” Foster laments, “Well, I’m bored of the game and too tired to rage.” Perhaps if Foster can reignite the fire that made Torches such an exciting debut, the band can reach their potential. Let’s just hope that Supermodel didn’t cost them that chance.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.