The L.A. quartet's surprise EP takes the band to darker places than they've ever been, whilst still keeping their distinctive indie pop vibe
The pattern goes like this: a band is thrust into the spotlight via their first album, potentially helped by a killer single; the second album builds off first, but lacks that special something; and finally the band heads in a new direction for album number three, which may or may not explode in their face. Los Angeles indie pop group Foster The People followed these first two steps perfectly, bursting onto the scene in 2011 with the summer-dominating ‘Pumped Up Kicks.’ Debut effort Torches then drew acclaim from critics and consumers alike, although 2014’s Supermodel may have charted well but picked up less positive reviews and lacked a signature single. Original member Cubbie Fink then left the band in 2015, making way for long-time touring members Sean Cimino and Isom Innis to take his place permanently. Cue the experimental change in sound – “The lyrics are speaking to something that’s maybe a little more of a darker subject matter,” lead singer Mark Foster told Beats 1’s Zane Lowe – for the first three singles from an as-yet-untitled third album.
Does III work? Certainly there are elements of Torches and Supermodel here: Foster’s distinctive vocals and turbulent musical production pervade each song. ‘S.H.C.’ in particular has many of the sort of upbeat riffs that made Torches so enjoyably carefree, and certainly feels far lighter in tone than the other two songs on the record – with its joyful guitar and instrumentation, it wouldn’t feel so out-of-place in a Two Door Cinema Club or Phoenix album.
On the other hand, ‘Pay The Man’ and ‘Doing It For The Money’ would fit right in to Supermodel‘s experimental second half. Although the subject matters aren’t in themselves particularly dark or depressing (“Say what you love, it’s alright / Don’t be afraid to find the light,” Foster croons in ‘Pay The Man’; “We’re gonna get, gonna get / Get what we can / We’re not doing it for the money,” he sings in ‘Doing It For The Money’), the drum beats and instrumentation over the first two tracks feels noticeably heavier than much of what the band produced before. Until Foster’s distinct vocals swoop in over the rugged bass intro to ‘Pay The Man,’ it is quite tricky to tell that it is in fact a Foster The People record. That’s not to say these songs are particularly bad – after a few listens I’m actually starting to rather like them – but they do take a little getting used to.
So will Foster The People’s third album fall flat on its face? Will it go the way of great third albums like Nirvana‘s In Utero, Blur‘s Parklife, and Radiohead‘s OK Computer in propelling the band to another level of superstardom? Considering their just-announced world tour, they certainly believe the latter. However, the jury’s still out on what the much-teased III actually brings. Whilst a change of tone is always welcome in a band and Foster’s DNA runs clearly through, the darker tone is yet to really fit with the band’s traditionally upbeat vibe.
III is out now via Columbia