Foster the People - Supermodel | Album Review | By Volume

What is this life, why do we strive? Fast on a wheel, too fast to feel. One day, my love, this life will slow. Sam Brookes - One Day

Foster the People


Supermodel tries, but it’s ultimately an ugly record.

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Author: on March 24, 2014
Columbia Records

Today, ladies and gentlemen, we are going to talk about the controversial concept of the guilty pleasure. I for one have never been able to fully discern the level of offense that this sentiment carries. Harking back to secondary school, we were all hormonal teenagers doing anything and everything to stave off social alienation, so the concept of a guilty pleasure was unheard of; you simply could not listen to some bands for fear of utter humiliation at the hands of your peers. Once we had convinced ourselves (and nobody else) that we had matured enough to finally decide which aspects of music did and didn’t work for us, we, who were the more enthusiastic about music, could then forge our own individual paths to bands we could sink our teeth into, that fit our needs. Yet, at this age, the relentless, exhausting struggle for communal acceptance still lingered like an imminent monsoon, it had just morphed into a subtle, more complex pathogen, hindering what was supposed to be a sudden swoop into sophistication. Thus, the guilty pleasure was born; by this stage we listened to whatever the hell we liked, but… could we tell anyone else it was Jamiroquai? Or worse… John Mayer? Yes we could have and should have! How insulting a notion! Who cares what you think anyway?! With one brushstroke you tar a thick coat of “this artist is shit and everyone knows it” across a back catalogue consisting of (in most cases) careful craft and considerable effort. Even if you attempt to excuse yourself by privately admitting that you like them, stop defaming hardworking artists in front of others! Just admit you like them!

At the age of nineteen, Torches, Foster the People’s first outing, was the first album that I knew perhaps should have been a guilty pleasure, but that I decided would be a turning point. I loved it and I wanted people to know. It was campy, poppy and preyed upon by – in part – teenage girls, but what an album of unreserved joy it is. Ten tracks, jammed full of unreserved elation, slick production and thumping beats. Released on the precipice of summer, it was the relentless soundtrack of my sun-drenched days and cool evenings across London and parts of Europe. I vowed that I no longer believed in guilty pleasures; that all music is deserving of equal analysis, and that no artist should be held in contempt for purely musical reasons. Foster the People, in a couple of months during 2011, managed to realign my musical beliefs and manage to trick even me into receiving every new release with an air of optimism. I decided life was too short for guilty pleasures. Now, in a couple of days in 2014, they’ve made me question that decision.

From here, let’s just cut right to the chase and admit it; Supermodel is a serious structural failure in the Foster the People machine. It’s a distended, trite and long-winded stab at a stylistic shift which single-handedly bankrupts Foster of their strengths and doesn’t cover anywhere near enough ground to justify some of the truly bizarre creative decisions on the record. That’s not to say all is lost; there are hints of clinical, classic pop music scattered across the album, but they are almost unanimously drowned out by moments of audacious self-indulgence from a band who I for one assumed would never take themselves too seriously. Take, for instance, “A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon”. An uncharacteristically edgy beat and fuzzy bass coat this chunky, angry track, but why on Earth it feels the need to chuck on a superfluous extra minute of pseudo-satirical rambling toward the end is totally beyond me. “Pseudologia Fantastica” too suffers from this same lack of judgement; in all honesty a bit of a filler track anyway, it slowly regresses — over the course of five and a half minutes -- into a maelstrom of overlapping synths and “doo-doo-doo-doos”. Perhaps this is merely a noble attempt at creating an epic soundscape, perhaps not, but there is no excusing an a cappella interlude. Sorry, but no. I’ll have none of that.

In fact, it’s this interlude (awkwardly titled “The Angelic Welcome of Mr. Jones”) that is so emblematic of this album’s faults. It’s unexpected but what the hell is the point? It’s not the stylistic changes themselves, but the lack of ambition in their construction and execution that makes Supermodel so damn frustrating; while the majority of the album is fairly obviously struggling to make some muddled point about consumerism, the very few times it comes off as unashamedly fun are when this useless pretense is dropped (such as in the absolutely superb lead single “Coming of Age” and the totally disco-funk powerhouse “Best Friends”). It’s also this faux-insightful sentiment that showcases Foster’s weaknesses better than any other misstep could. An apparent concept album condemning socialites and celebrity culture, this pointless label has unfortunately granted Foster room to invest far too heavily their own philosophical hype; neither particularly perceptive nor sufficiently eloquent, the pessimistic lyrics that Supermodel decides to unceremoniously shove into the spotlight in place of thumping beats and wacky synths are tiresome and terribly unnecessary. Moreover, they leave a sour, sanctimonious taste; lest we forget that this is a band who found sudden stardom through the superficial mercies of the YouTube generation.

Supermodel is more of everything. It’s more anthemic, more varied, more ambitious, but it is so much less effective it’s hard to believe. I suppose some aspects of Torches are pretty much duplicated (the falsetto, the pop-rock), but — and bless them for trying — there are so many moments of false wisdom and tiresome banality that I just cannot bring myself to call Supermodel anything other than a serious disappointment. Every creative decision that is notably different from their debut seems to have been made just for the sake of it. Sure, they’ve mostly removed the piano that permeated every single track on Torches. But who cares if it’s just replaced with another feeble guitar? These decisions, to the great detriment of Foster the People, mean that very little of this album is even remotely memorable, particularly its sudden penchant for slower tracks, both of which (“Goats in Trees” and “Fire Escape”) are unbelievably tedious. What is with the length of this album?! If you discount the interlude, the average track length is four minutes and twenty seconds, with a handful being well over the five minute mark. Sunshine pop, even with these little tweaks, will never be able to sustain this duration, it’s as simple as that, and Foster the People will need to either reimagine their sound again or revert to their old self if they are to recapture my attention. It’s a terrible, terrible shame that a band that made such a mark on my memory has fallen so flat, and it pains me to say it, but Foster the People, in their new form, will be reformed back into a guilty pleasure. While I look forward to their next step, and will forgive them for this one if it’s a success, this is a scar in their still-young discography.

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