Review Summary: If it ain't broke
Never say that Tokyo Police Club has been a band to play with their listener’s expectations. For all shock that fans may feel when they fire up Forcefield
with the sounds of three-part suite “Argentina,” a song that is nearly three times as long as anything in the band’s catalog, it’s a fleeting feeling. That “Argentina” is one song and not three doesn’t really mean anything – this is hardly the group’s foray into orchestral prog. The guitars still chime with major-key clarity; David Monks’ distinctive, grinning vocals singing things like “I don’t want to want you like I want you” unabashedly; the vibe is cheery and sad and surprisingly tender all at once, memories dipped in nostalgia and dripping with faded puppy love. There’s a depth to this song, though, in its subtle transitions between parts and a seamless addition of synthesizer to the tried-and-true four-piece rock act Tokyo Police Club have long since perfected. “If I was an asshole / thank you for keeping a smile on your face,” Monks sings, the necessary counterpoint to the band’s relentlessly sunny demeanor. It’s a duality that has always been present in Tokyo Police Club’s whirlwind of a catalog, but never as finely presented as it is on “Argentina.” The changes on Forcefield
are understated, to be sure, but they also paint a sharper picture of the band. While the band’s evolution has been slow ever since they abused their amps on 2006’s raucous A Lesson in Crime
, their songwriting has sharpened to an exceedingly fine point.
The idea behind Forcefield
is an obvious one, and the songs reflect it. The four year delay between this and 2010’s Champ
is almost unheard of for a band that has propelled itself forward seemingly on energy alone, yet here we are. What’s surprising is how immediate the group sounds. “Argentina” may feel like the requisite expulsion of all the pent up emotions four years can bring, but it segues into the cheesy “Hot Tonight,” a capital-s Single if there ever was one. Here, the meaning of Forcefield
becomes clear. As Tokyo Police Club have aged, it’s obvious that the trends that have changed music since 2010 don’t interest them much. If anything, it’s hardened their resolve to being the best pop act they can be. “Hot Tonight” is pure radio bliss, a paean to summer excess and general irresponsibility played almost too straight. It’s a distillation of Forcefield
’s core ethos, a more glitzed up version of the angular, punchy guitar work that defined 2008’s Elephant Shell
and a commitment to hooks that is admirable in its tenacity. The difference is in Monks’ weary vocals and his lyrics, tinged with regret and discomfort more often than not. This is a band whose members are all approaching thirty, and for all the endearing playfulness on display here, there is a shadow looming.
works because it never tries to overstep its carefully circumscribed bounds; even “Argentina” feels like less than half its runtime. The band can have it both ways, direct and flashy but also refreshingly unpretentious. In the hands of another band the fervor with which they hit those crunchy power chords and the easy fun of the arrangements would seem a tad cynical; here, it’s impossible not to sing along, and the sarcasm inherent in much of Monks’ lyrics and crooked smile is amiable, not so much smirking as laughing at it all (or you’ll cry, right?). Diminishing returns are largely avoided by the reckless way the album veers from haphazard, blistering garage rock (“Gonna Be Ready”) to sunny midtempo radio bait (“Toy Guns”) to jangly power-pop (“Through The Wire”). It’s a bit of a breathless trip that betrays Tokyo Police Club’s strict adherence to their own special comfort zone: if it makes you tap your foot, it’s in. Monks can claim he’s “Miserable” as much as he wants – the way the hooks sparkle and his voice bounces on top that guitar line sure sound like a band absolutely okay with continuing to do what works.
Is there a place for Tokyo Police Club in 2014? Forcefield
stands proudly on its own, a meat-and-potatoes rock record that swings for the FM fences and gets by on Monks’ considerable personality and the band’s seemingly limitless energy. It is also an anachronism, defiantly insular by its own admission and cocking a middle finger at the concept of irrelevancy. The songs are good enough today; will they be good enough tomorrow? In this respect, Tokyo Police Club could not be more like its lead singer. Monks has always been the perpetual asshole, self-denigrating and flawed and always willing to discuss his foibles, if not change them. “But I got the tunnel vision, can’t see the light / I just want to make it through one more night, tonight,” he sings on “Tunnel Vision.” It’s a good metaphor for the kind of late-20s uncertainty Monks has mastered, but it’s not hard to draw a parallel to his band, either. It will be interesting to see where they go when the forcefield fails and morning finally arrives.