Review Summary: You're never going to get everything you want in this world.
Music can be a great outlet for many people. The release of bottled-up emotions through song is something that has led to many great albums driven by the anger and melancholy of artists going through troubled times. For Tyler Glenn, that experience is all too similar. 2013 was not a good year for the lead singer of the Neon Trees, who struggled with mental illness, fame, depression and sexual orientation. Pop Psychology
is the manifestation of Glenn’s therapy sessions in musical form, sessions where he was able to overcome his inner demons and rediscover his happiness. The album takes its title from a phrase that refers to strategies aimed to improve the well-being of one’s mental state, which ties in perfectly to Glenn’s recent personal struggles.
With their first two albums, the Neon Trees established themselves as a fairly solid indie-pop act with a more instrumental-driven sound than most of the genre. Nevertheless, their sophomore effort Picture Show
seemed more like an inferior rehash of their debut album, offering more of the same. Pop Psychology
could have gone two ways – the band could have either continued to milk their old sound until it increasingly became more stale, or change it up a bit to avoid being labeled one-trick ponies. Although the Neon Trees chose to do the latter, may wonder if it will truly benefit them in the long run. Whereas Habits
and Picture Show
showed off a more ‘alternative’ side to them, Pop Psychology
proudly bears new wave and synthpop influences. It’s not a drastic departure, but it’s one that’s clearly evident in a majority of the album’s tracks.
Gone are the guitar solos and fast drum fills, and filling their spots are various synthesizers as the band dabbles into a more electronic-based sound. One would hope that a more pop-oriented musical direction would come with more catchy hooks, and the Neon Trees deliver on that aspect. Whether it be the slick “Love in the 21st Century” or the dance-y hand claps on “Foolish Behavior”, Pop Psychology
shows off some of the strongest choruses the band has ever written. For a pop album, it’s a primal feature that can make or break an album. Even if the Neon Trees wrote plenty of memorable hooks earlier in their career (“Animal” the best example), the complementation between them and the band’s new poppier sound lets them shine out more.
isn’t without its fair share of duds – it’s hard to explore a new sound without running into some rough patches along the way. The duet between frontman Glenn and drummer Eileen Bradley on “Unavoidable” comes off as incredibly saccharine and sugar coated, complete with cheesy one-liners like “you are a magnet, I am metallic”. “I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends)” lacks the substance for a track bearing a title so brash. Similarities to other popular songs are also prevalent, as the melody in the verses of “Love in the 21st Century” is nearly identical to the verses of “Tonight You’re Perfect” by the New Politics (lyrically, it’s also raises some red flags– “I don’t believe” to “Should I believe?”). The riff from The Strokes’ “Last Nite” is emulated a little bit too familiarly on “Text Me in the Morning”, and right before the chorus Glenn sings in a vocal style that draws too many similarities to Julian Casablancas. Aside from that, “Voices in the Halls” repeats an irritating synth riff in the background that lasts for the whole song. Combine that with the song’s slow tempo, and a nearly three minute song drags on for what seems like five.
Lyrically, Pop Psychology
contains elements not only from Glenn’s recent personal life, but also from his critique of modern society as well. Tracks like “Love in the 21st Century” and “Text Me in the Morning” deal with the role technology plays in romance, the former offering lines such as “your kisses taste so sweet, but then you press delete” that portray his negative stance on the subject, while “Sleeping With a Friend”, filled to the brim with sexual energy, vilifies one-night stands through his satirical lyricism. Perhaps the biggest story surrounding the album’s lyrics is how Glenn overcame his personal struggles, and even if it isn’t the deepest lyrical confessional, many of the songs in the album’s back half show a different side to the usually vibrant frontman. “I found out how to trust myself / I found out I’m stronger than the pills”, he croons on “Living in Another World”, fighting his depression with self-motivation and confidence. The extremely personal track also discusses his recent decision to come out as gay to the public (“I guess I’ve always been this way, it’s been hard for me to say”). Covering a wide range of topics, the lyrics of Pop Psychology
are always sincere, even when Glenn’s vocal delivery is a bit less than enthused.
With their third album, the Neon Trees chose to switch things up rather than keep playing their brand of jangly indie pop. Although their new sound laid the foundation for more memorable hooks, its poppiness does lead to moments that are either too saccharine and sugar-coated or ones that lack the ‘punch’ and energy of their best work. There’s no “Animal” or “Your Surrender” that immediately gets the blood pumping, but the infectiousness of “Sleeping With a Friend” and “Love in the 21st Century” still show off the band’s talents. The record’s cover displays the band sitting down on a sizable brain, presumably Glenn’s amongst a colorful background. By revealing to the world multiple aspects of his life – from his views on sex to how he overcame depression, Pop Psychology
boasts some of the most honest lyrics on a pop album in a while. Even its bright, vibrant colors are a perfect match for its new wave and synthpop influences. Although Pop Psychology
doesn’t necessarily do anything wonderful or innovative with the Neon Trees’ newfound sound (nor does it make it through the end unblemished), it’s a fun, infectious romp through the mind of Tyler Glenn.