One of the hugest pop belters of recent years, Foster The People‘s Pumped Up Kicks made for an unlikely chart-botherer. Famously an anthem with dark, thought-provoking subtexts (teenage mental illness, gun violence and homicidal thoughts), it was propelled into the spotlight normally reserved for simple, airy-fairy ditties about heartbreak and getting blackout blotto.
2010 was a simpler time, and on the sheer gung-ho pop cojones, it excelled beyond onlookers’ wildest expectations, making Mark Foster, Cubbie Fink and Mark Pontius bona fide pop sensations along the way.
Following on from their debut cash cow/album Torches, Foster The People have Supermodels (not literally, that’s their new album’s sobriquet). The trio have funnelled in hard-hitting notions and critique of modern life for us to devour, like frat boys suckling a beer bong. They’ve described Supermodels as a concept album about contemporary pop culture and all its glaring foibles: “One of the biggest themes is consumerism and the ugly side of capitalism,” Foster explained in the run-up to the release date. They also delivered a manifesto-type spiel via mural:
I ate it all; plastic, diamonds and sugar-coated arsenic as we danced in honey and sea-salt sprinkled laxative. Coral blossomed portraits in Rembrandt light; cheekbones high and fashionable. Snap! goes the moment; a photograph is time travel, like the light of dead stars painting us with their warm, titanic blood. Parasitic kaleidoscopes and psychotropic glow worms stop me dead in my tracks. Aphids sucking the red off a rose, but for beauty I will gladly feed my life into the mouths of rainbows; their technicolor teeth cutting prisms and smiling benevolently on the pallid hue of the working class hero.
That’s all very nice, and Foster’s silver tongue clearly translates well to his pen-to-paper skills too, but how does the backdrop stand up? With Torches, the gritty realism was punctuated by gobsmacking, lip-licking pop nuggets and the kind of hooks that you could hang a pig’s carcass from. They spouted the gospel on indie-pop during 2010/11, but has their soured world view diminished such joie de vivre?
Oddly, the answer is no. While it’s a bit scattershot in its approach, touching base with the old formula, and, as many have noticed, sounds that bear more than a fleeting resemblance to James Blake, MGMT and Vampire Weekend, there’s still segments of the LP that will provide that same slicing pop jolt you’ve been jonesing for. Ironically, at least in some ways, the very ideas the threesome are protesting against crop up – the catch-all method of genre-hopping seems to indicate that they’re casting the biggest net possible, for example. However, this doesn’t mean all to much in the grand scheme of things. Just as when hearing Pumped Up Kicks you’re more inclined to boogie than form a picket line, Supermodel does little to galvanise the masses into eschewing their habits, but it will induce a severe bout of dance fever. They’re still a pop band at heart.
The Truth has got womping bass lurches, baritone smarm and grandiose piano riffs that sound like Hurts curling out a wry smile; Pseudologia Fantastica’s got that aforementioned MGMT-ness, with psych-pop vox, chewy beats and jagged synth motifs aplenty; swoony Hawaiian slide-guitar ballad Goats In Trees (related to these bizarre money-grabs perhaps?) is a lovely change of pace on the album, providing some pensive respite; funk carnival Best Friend has ‘anthem’ written all over it, and it’s probably the most Foster The People-y doozy on the record. A good number of the paeans on Supermodel are worth checking out, and are exemplary chapters of the pop handbook.
It’s a strange album, Supermodel. On one hand, they’ve got mighty, admirable goals, which ultimately fall flat – you’re unlikely to be bowled over by their deeper meanings or restructure your life’s ethos. On the other, that’s genuinely irrelevant, as they’re propagators of sheer pop glory. Hook-laced in all the right places, melodic, rhythmic, intelligent, addictive and slightly quirky: they don’t skimp on any of the ingredients here. Supermodel’s strange because while their foremost aim is MIA, they inadvertently (or less advertently at the very least) create a mishmashed anthology that’ll cause untold pleasures.