*** (out of 4)
When "Pumped Up Kicks" vaulted Foster the People to rock stardom in summer 2011, it was an odd record to take off in such extreme fashion. Not only was it a mellow, easy-listening tune in a time of dance-driven power-pop, but tucked beneath its quaintness was a serious tale of a school shooting--a grim underpinning on a seemingly light, lovely song.
While listening to "Supermodel," Foster the People's overdue follow-up to the California band's debut, "Torches," it's difficult not to think of the formula behind "Kicks." "Supermodel" contains even more seriousness than "Torches" but still has enough rollicking hooks to obscure much of the content, which frontman Mark Foster has said deals with with "the ugly side of capitalism." Maybe hiding that commentary is a plus, since, much of it is shallow or nonsensical: "It's hard to know the truth/ In this post-modernist view/ Where absolutes are seen as relics/ And laughed out of the room," Foster sings on "Nevermind," a melancholy strum that seems intended to evoke its Nirvana namesake.
There's also a strong psychedelic element to "Supermodel." Songs like "A Beginner's Guide to Destroying the Moon" (which samples Clams Casino?!) and "Pseudologia Fantastica" provide a haze that, when combined with the album's grave subject matter, gives many of the songs a bizarre yet pleasing juxtaposition. On "Best Friend," Foster takes on a joyous falsetto to belt, "When your best friends are strung out ..." over a '70s-style dance chorus punctuated by a slip-and-fall slide whistle. It works surprisingly well.
Even if the lyrics don't hold up, the musical ambition does--"Supermodel" is far more spacious and well-paced than "Torches." The eerie "Goats in Trees" is practically acoustic, and "Fire Escape" is literally acoustic. There, even the predictably pensive lyrics manage to avoid cliche.
It can be frustrating when a band with writing as middling as Foster the People drapes itself in utter seriousness. Thankfully, "Supermodel" soars on its massive hooks and rests on its softer instrumentation, both of which evoke enough emotion to make you forget about the half-baked ideas underneath.
Adam Lukach is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic
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