Review Summary: We all want more.
In a sense, it’s admirable how little Foster the People plays to their strengths on Sacred Hearts Club
, the group’s third full-length effort. Gone are the vibrant, psychedelia-tinged offerings of Supermodel
, its criminally underappreciated predecessor (full disclosure: I adore that record). In their place, frontman Mark Foster and co. have unleashed a slick set of songs more akin to EDM, hip-hop, and even house music. Prior to the album’s release, Foster said his primary intention in writing it was to create something joyful. Given the U.S.’s current sociopolitical climate, this was a commendable attitude to take, and its success is hard to argue against. In the process, however, Foster the People have seemingly sacrificed one of the most vital components of their sound: craft.
I’ll let you know right off the bat that the music is most effective when it does explore more familiar sonic territory. The jangly guitar-pop of “SHC”, the bass-driven groove of “I Love My Friends”, the romantic soundscapes of “Static Space Lover”, and off-kilter indie jam “Lotus Eater” stand out as clear highlights. Closing track “III” is perhaps their most ethereal track yet -- a simple, ghostly ode to God and to eternity that might make Richard Dawkins shed a tear. Beyond these tracks, the album suffers from a lack of focus. Take album centerpiece “Loyal Like Sid & Nancy”, for example, which has already become the LP’s most polarizing track, and for good reason. “Yeah, you're walking in stilettos, but your nose is bleeding out”, Mark Foster spits over the same beat you heard booming across the club the other night, right before your friend vomited into your lap. It’s uncharacteristic and off-putting, but not embarrassing, largely due to Foster’s tangible confidence and conviction. Around the three-minute mark, a dynamic shift occurs, with the arrival of a surprisingly moving string section. The song then fades out on an equally powerful piano motif, and you’re left wondering what the hell just happened. This kind of duality serves as the crux of Sacred Hearts Club
. Obvious single “Sit Next to Me” benefits from a laid back ‘summer song’ vibe, but it struggles to leave a lasting impression. “Doing It for the Money”, cowritten by OneRepublic vocalist Ryan Tedder, is catchy enough but ultimately hollow. Furthermore, two compelling interludes pad out the record’s runtime, but both are too fragmented to garner much staying power; the Isom Innis-produced “Orange Dream” stomps away with an eerie stride, while Beach Boys tribute “Time to Get Closer” floats by in a thick, melodic haze.
Your first impressions of Sacred Hearts Club
will be dependent on which direction you wanted Foster the People to take after Supermodel
. If you wanted them to dive deeper into their radio-ready pop sensibilities, glossy tracks like “Doing It for the Money” & “Pay the Man” will immediately catch your ears. If you wanted them to double down on that record’s aesthetics, you might be put off entirely. But at the core of Sacred Hearts Club
, beyond any restrictions of one’s tastes, there is certainly enjoyable music to be found. Just don’t let the neon lights blind you on the way there.