Given the undeniable success of Torches, it is understandable that Foster the People would want to rehash some of the formulas that led to their success. Indeed, Supermodel is replete with syncopated distortion guitars, vomit-sampling, and soaring crowd vocals that characterize much of Torches and (unfortunately) too much of the indie-pop landscape. However, the new album finds the trio stumbling over unfinished and haphazard songwriting. The result is an unwieldy experiment that lacks the conviction of its predecessor—a blemish that can’t be fixed by beating its old formula to death.
The album’s opener, “Are You What You Want to Be?,” is the album’s strongest track. A space rock intro leads into a familiar groove, mixed with delivery and lyrics influenced by a trip to Morocco. The effort is both hard-rocking and a little wobbly, but it manages to hold itself together until the end.
Traveling deeper into the album, however, there is a consistent lack of hooks and feeling that results in a kind of parody of Torches. While Foster has never been a gifted lyricist, Torches delivered lines with real traction. On Supermodel, tracks like “Ask Yourself” dial in opaque lyricism (“Is this the life you’ve been waiting for/Or are you hoping you’ll be where you want, with a little more?/Well ask yourself”) that begs for more direction. Lines from “The Truth” (“I’ve been trying to re-learn my name/It seems like a thousand years/I’ve been out of frame/And I surrender/The truth is what I’ve needed from you/I’ve been floating within”) come off as sad open-mic poetry.
The vomit-sampling, a trick which worked wonders in Torches, now collapses into a woozy haze that exposes a lack of songwriting chops. The album feels like a collection of unfinished parts of songs, as if Foster and company needed another year or so to generate more compelling material. The insanely polished production works to generate occasional moments of real interest, but in the end, it fails to compensate for a fundamental and fatal truth—songs without musical or lyrical direction are mediocre.
Quiet ditty “Fire Escape” provides a moment of promise amid a sea of noise, but beyond the surface it reveals itself as cheeseball gimmick, covered in sickly sincerity.
In a recent Billboard interview, Foster defends the album, observing: “I feel like trying to write a song in order to be a big hit is just not something I’m interested in because it’s not going to come from an authentic place of expression.” Essentially, Foster blames the mediocrity of the album on his uncompromising authenticity. Of course, we’ve all heard the martyr defense before. In any case, it’s unconvincing because the problem is not that the songs aren’t hits, the problem is that the songs are just not very good.
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