It is unlikely that the husband and wife duo of guitarist Patrick Riley and vocalist Alaina Moore that comprise Tennis ever believed that their seven-month long sailing trip around the Atlantic coast, that inspired their debut album Cape Dory, would be the catalyst for them becoming a real fully fledged band. Two years later, and on the cusp of releasing their second studio album, there is no doubt that Tennis are now a proper band in every sense of the world.
Cape Dory was a charming, if rather lightweight, debut and its primitive lo-fi sound and freewheeling atmosphere were perfect matches for Riley and Moore’s songs documenting their time at sea. The duo have since expanded to a three-piece, with the addition of drummer James Barone. Despite follow up Young & Old not having a thematic story like the debut, its more disparate influences make for a much broader and ultimately more satisfying listen.
The band decamped from their native state of Denver to Nashville to record the album with producer Patrick Carney of The Black Keys and it appears his guitar rock pedigree has rubbed off on the group. Young & Old is a far more strident affair than the rather rickety debut. The drums have a nice kick to them and the guitar sounds are sharp and clear throughout, indicating that the band have honed their sound. Opening track It All Stays The Same introduces their sonic progression as it develops from pretty strumming guitar to a great driving chorus and the satisfying crunch of the guitar is particularly striking.
Young & Old sees Tennis intelligently playing to their strengths, and their main strength is the soulful purr of singer Alaina Moore’s stunning voice. There is a hugely captivating, richly melodic sound to her voice and it perfectly fits the swinging pop of the piano led Origins and the yearning lilt of My Better Self. Moore’s voice is reminiscent of The Supremes-era Diana Ross and there is a distinct ’60s Motown influence to the songs here. Indeed Moore has described the album as sounding like “Stevie Nicks going through a Motown phase”.
It is clear that Tennis are now exploring a broader musical palette that allows them to experiment and have fun. The playful sass of the sultry Petition is a gloriously hook filled piece of effortless pop and the exuberant organ sounds of Travelling are especially charming. But beyond the retro influences on Tennis’ sound their gift for a charmingly endearing melody means the album never sounds like a tired pastiche.
Lyrically, Young & Old moves away from the rather simple approach of Cape Dory to a more nuanced lyrical style. The album was written in just three months on the road. While the mood is generally breezy and light, there is a degree of pessimism to some of Moore’s lyrics, best exemplified by High Roads coda of “Paradise is all around, but happiness is never found”. Soaring penultimate track Take Me To Heaven is the highlight, and Moore’s hugely impressive vocals are genuinely affecting as she sings: “If you’re just passing through, then take me to Heaven with you”.
Tennis’ second album has firmly established them as more than just a quaint novelty and Young & Old can be seen as a subtle but significant step forward. Bigger, bolder but still retaining an engaging charm, it is a highly impressive melodic triumph.