Review: Foster the People - Sacred Hearts Club (Columbia)
A party album constituted of stops, starts, uncertainty and indecision
Foster thePeople have been unashamedly pop-sensitive from the offset. Since the LA based Sean Cimino, Mark Pontius and Mark Foster burst onto the scene with 'Pumped Up Kicks' in 2010, they have become somewhat renowned for their foot-tapping beats and eccentric flourishes of electropop. The debut album that followed, 'Torches' (2011) was received with critical acclaim, yet the reception to its follow up, 'Supermodel' (2013) was lukewarm despite the more potent political theme underlying it. However, following a makeover that draws more inspiration from contemporary pop and EDM and with Isom Innis (keyboard) as a permanent member, 'Sacred Hearts Club' sounds like a rejuvenation of their distinguished sound but at the cost of some of the qualities that constituted their appeal as a band.
The extensive emphasis on synthesis and production has always been embodied in their musicianship, though this is taken to new levels in this album: if it were not for Foster's eminent vocal delivery that to his credit remains relatively raw compared to other contemporary artists. The presumably ironically titled 'Do it for the Money' could have been assembled from the same pool as Imagine Dragons or One Republic and with opening track 'Pay the Man' (carrying the same irony) it is easy to forget that you are listening to a band altogether. As cliched as its chord sequence may be, 'Sit Next to Me' carries memorable and punchy hooks that are convincingly delivered through an instantly satisfying and chilled-out beat, despite lightly mirroring the chorus of Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky'.
From this point, regrettably, the album starts to fall further back into its origins as a band rather than a production concept, with 'SHC' and 'I Love My Friends' failing to live up to anything memorable from any of their previous efforts; the latter feels drawn out after playing for little over a minute through the over-repetitive drum loops and the vocal melody could be deemed as dully predictable. The arrival of the darkwave inspired sonic interlude 'Orange Dream' comes as especially welcome in response, working well as an unorthodox transition into 'Sonic Space Lover' to which the synth-bell ostinatos in the verse make this stand one of the albums strongest tracks; the only one that justifies the psychedelic influence that FosterThe People outlined in the run up to its release. 'Lotus Eater' on the first listen could be considered a dance orientated recreation of the UK's short-lived garage rock/indie phase in 2006, however it fails to sound at ease with itself through not fully committing to either the raw characteristics of indie or the beat driven aspects of dance music, leaving it lumbering in indecisive territory.
The structure of lead single 'Loyal Like Sid & Nancy' is as unusual as its title suggests, although in actuality it feels like three dance tracks from a Ministry of Sound playlist assembled together by a DJ trying too hard to dumbfound their audience. As with the opening two tracks if it was not for Foster's vocals, it would be difficult to recognise this as a product of the band; 'Harden the Paint' maintains this electro-fuelled hedonism but the excessive production on his voice confines it to the obscurity of the dance singles charts. 'III' attempts to initiate something of a come down after this period of ecstasy, but like many points on this album, it feels elongated and thus forces it into an unsatisfying conclusion.
It may be slightly unfair to concede this as a bad album, though some may regard it a shame that the best parts are appreciated for being guilty pleasures rather than for their originality. This in itself is not a shameable offence, but one cannot help but get the impression that Foster The People were striving for slightly more cultivated things with this LP; this in itself suggests they have probably fallen short.