Review Summary: The trick to this album is not to get too attached to it. Which isn’t hard.
As an American who was a lot more invested in new episodes of SpongeBob than he was in the British rock scene at the time of The Trick to Life
’s release, I’m not equipped to provide a thorough historical overview of the Hoosiers’ career. The best means I have to gauge their popularity is their victory of the illustrious NME Worst Band award in 2008 over a host of names that remain instantly recognizable today, including My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy. Any band that could find itself in that company must’ve turned a head or two, even if for unflattering reasons. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, after floating through the UK Charts for a solid year, it seems their record label decided to walk back its investment, resulting in a poor promotional effort for the band’s sophomore album and total withdrawal from the popular music scene. Several releases have come since, but none have brought them back anywhere near mainstream success (hell, their most recent album doesn’t even have a single vote on this godforsaken site
). It turns out the fast decline of the Hoosiers’ career was a shame because, well, the Worst Band of 2008 had some obvious potential.
The compositions of The Trick to Life
are familiar, no question, but that doesn’t necessarily detract from them. Maybe its mishmash of popular indie and pop rock stylings represent an identity crisis, sure. Or maybe it's just oozing so much pure creativity that the band thought it best to throw everything they could at the wall to see if it stuck. There’s proof enough sprinkled throughout that the Hoosiers know what they’re doing here. “Goodbye Mr A” is a clear highlight, its bouncy circus rhythms encapsulating the very best of the album’s vibrant whimsy. It’s no surprise that this was the album’s most successful single, and it’s the reason I decided to check the band out in the first place. “Everything Goes Dark” is equally impressive, showcasing the group’s ability to craft something more solemn and, frankly, more gorgeous. Don’t tell me the rising crescendo of this track doesn’t move you to some
extent. I don't know why singer Irwin Sparkes has to stretch the word “dark” out to four syllables, and I don’t care! On the subject of Sparkes, his voice is the album’s greatest weapon and probably its greatest weakness. His vocals often overpower the material and become enveloped in their own theatricality (“A Sadness Runs Through Him” and the aforementioned “Everything Goes Dark” come to mind). Still, his talent is unquestionably remarkable, and what’s British pop good for anyway if not an overabundance of falsetto. To my ears, the wonky dynamism of his voice is a net positive for the album ("Cops and Robbers" is a high point here), but your mileage may vary.
One trait that holds The Trick to Life
back is how fleeting it is. Five songs run under 3 minutes and the longest is just over 4. Most tracks don’t stick around long to try and convince you of their quality. That’s fine if you have the tunes to back it up, which is the case with “Worried About Ray”, for example, but not so much with “Clinging on for Life” or the title track, both of which wind up feeling almost half-baked. The overall aesthetics of The Trick to Life
, meanwhile, are...well...deeply uncool. Songs like “Worst Case Scenario” and “Killer” show some teeth, but they’re offset by occasional descents into vanilla Plain White T’s-eque territory. Even so, there’s something endearing about it all, which is probably because of how damn fun
these songs are. Worry too much about what's cool anyhow and you end up an NME reader. Let’s not go there.
It's unclear if there is an underlying theme to The Trick to Life
. The title track seems to provide some semblance of a central thesis (which I’ve already paraphrased in my summary). “The trick to life,” Sparkes proclaims, “is not to get too attached to it.” But it's hard to say if there's any thematic connection here with the rest of the record. I’m of the opinion that the best albums tell a story rathering than collecting a bunch of disparate songs, and The Trick to Life seems to do the latter. But the less I try to intellectualize it, the more it rewards me. Music is about feelings, and the Hoosiers know this. A collection of disparate songs, maybe, yeah. But these songs are so consistently easy to enjoy that they won me over despite myself. I hope they can win you over too. If not, well, at least this was decent writing exercise.