Review Summary: ...and so is following up.
I could preface this review by saying how Talking is Hard
never stood a chance at topping its predecessor, a slice of indie pop music so catchy and fun with just enough youthful exuberance to feel energetic, but not too much that it just becomes borderline irritating. I could talk about how this album is the sophomore slump personified, a rather disappointing second outing following such a magnificent entry into the realm of music. I could go on and on and on about all the things that Walk the Moon did wrong here that they did right on their debut, or maybe even talk about what they did better this time out.
Because no matter what, there’s no way around the fact that Talking is Hard
is a bit of a disappointment.
Out of all the indie pop bands that broke out around 2011-12, Walk the Moon seemed the least likely to disappoint; after all, the only thing they could possibly do to take a turn for the worse was become too
peppy and cheerful. Yet for some reason, Talking is Hard
is completely unmemorable, devoid of the substance that made their debut so good. Even on its own, it’s not all that great of an album. At times it’s just plain annoying, evidenced by the grating hook of “Sidekick” and the amalgam of squealing and screaming during “Up 2 U”. Sure, there were a few rough patches on Walk the Moon
, but they were easily forgiven because they were just a small fraction in an otherwise stunning welcoming. Here, it seems like every useless nuisance drags the whole album down, killing any potential momentum that was already built up.
That’s a shame too, because there’s some pretty good songs on Talking is Hard
. “Shut Up and Dance” is an absolutely infectious track that made perfect sense as the album’s lead single, with its insanely catchy hook, lively atmosphere and a short-yet-sweet guitar solo. In a similar vein, “Avalanche” shows off the band’s bouncier side, with lyrics about infatuation that perfectly complements the song’s carefree vibe. It’s almost certain that the refrain of “one glance and the avalanche drops / one look and my heartbeat stops” will be the soundtrack to many concerts and blog posts to come, while the very danceable guitar riff only helps to liven up the mood. The only problem with this is that at times the whole “feel-good” atmosphere gets tiring after a while; one can only listen to the same peppy, upbeat number so many times before the happiness overwhelms you. While the debut was also fairly upbeat, it was never to a level of annoyance, something that weighs down Talking is Hard
when it shouldn’t.
Despite carrying most of the same traits, the album differentiates itself from its predecessor by taking a more polished, less guitar-driven sound. Layers of synths are integrated into the primary melodies of multiple tracks, while the riffs are less rock-based and more danceable. The poppier direction takes away from the anthemic, sky’s-the-limit feel that was ever so prevalent on their debut, replacing it with a more artificial, contrived sheen whose absence was part of what made Walk the Moon
stand out amongst a sea of generic fluff. Tracks like “Work This Body”, “Down in the Dumps”, “We Are the Kids” and “Spend Your $$$” are by-the-numbers indie pop songs that just sink into the background; coincidentally, they’re all placed right next to each other. It just all feels so safe and dry, lacking the energy that carried the exuberance all the way to the finish line. With that said, there are certain moments on Talking is Hard
that do see the band step outside of their comfort zone – “Up 2 U” features a roarin’ garage rock influenced post-chorus riff that wouldn’t be out of place on Royal Blood’s album, while closer “Aquaman” integrates elements of African tribal rhythms reminiscent of many 80s soft rock ballads. It’s nice to know that Walk the Moon don’t entirely pigeonhole themselves into making solely upbeat, feel-good tunes, although the record still suffers from a foreboding feeling of being a bit too “samey-sounding”. A little bit of diversity would go a long way, especially given the album’s tendency to drag a lot towards its finish.
While a slight diversion in sound may have been necessary in order to avoid being labeled one-trick ponies, the change only resulted in Walk the Moon losing their anthemic, exchanging it with several doses of Ambien and a spoonful of irritation. The album just lacks the genuineness and heart that elevated their debut above all the other Johnny-come-latelys of the indie pop world. Sure, the infectiousness of tracks like “Shut Up and Dance” or “Different Colors” knows no bounds, but overall Talking is Hard
is just too perky at the wrong times, and too generic and unmemorable in most places elsewhere. It’s a significant step back from a band that showed a lot of potential just a few years ago, and while it’s very tempting to just roll down the windows and belt out, “Oh, don’t you dare look back, just keep your eyes on me”, that moment’s worth savoring each time as a reminder that opportunities like that are few and far between.