With the imminent release of new effort Supermodel, Foster The People’s frontman Mark Foster has recently started to open up about the making of the new album, about how the process of its creation was different from its predecessor Torches. Among other things Foster noted that Torches was constructed in the studio without any real thought to live performances and that, on the contrary, Supermodel was written after a time of extensive touring, with the resulting awareness of the live side of things heavily influencing the new album’s arrangements. Foster’s also shared his views on both creative efforts: Torches to him feels like a collection of songs, Supermodel like a real album. As a listener though, you’d expect his latest statement to be exactly the other way around: Supermodel‘s songs all have an entirely different identity, with very little piecing them together.
In addition the band has changed its sound, with only single ‘Coming Of Age’ coming close to the style of music you’ve come to expect from Foster The People after having heard their debut. But even here the change is present: the guitar is at the forefront of the arrangement, the swirling synths and pianos most present on Torches taking a backseat on many of Supermodel‘s tracks. It seems Foster and company felt a need to shake things up quite a bit, accessing various musical genres and drawing on the most diverse of influences. Opening track ‘Are You What You Wanna Be’ is an uptempo reggae and disco track, the distorted guitars present in the verse of ‘Beginners Guide To Destroying The Moon’ evoke a 90’s grunge sound and ‘The Truth’ is Foster The People’s take on triphop. It’s an admirable effort, but because of it the album feels fragmented and directionless, more of a Frankenstein’s monster than, let’s say, a supermodel. It’s an outing easy to respect and admire for its craftsmanship and experimentation, but to say it’s a moving and fulfilling album is something else entirely.
There are some wonderful tracks on Supermodel, mind you. The aforementioned ‘Coming Of Age’ is a meticulously constructed pop song that sounds uplifting and happy, but really isn’t if you pay mind to Mark Foster’s introspective lyrics. This tension between musical form and a song’s actual contents is one of the band’s hallmarks and it’s done expertly here (while it doesn’t go the the extremes of ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, a Torches‘ single so catchy people kept humming it until they learned the lyrics were actually about a school shooting). Another memorable track is ‘Fire Escape’, a stripped down, bare-bones track with Foster’s touching vocals, a guitar, an organ and a choir at its center. “Los Angeles I’ve been waiting for you to pick yourself up and change,” he sings in this haunting song about the dark side of his home city and the things he witnessed living there. Pre-order exclusive ‘Tabloid Super Junkie’ is also a joy to listen to because of its driving bass line and drums, and its raw lead guitar, but due to the limited availability many people will miss out on this great track.
In the end Supermodel is a mixed bag: it’s a testament to Foster The People’s ability to successfully explore and conquer new musical territory, but as a whole it leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a disjointed album, focused more on smarts than on heart. 6/10