Review Summary: This is not your father’s Hoosiers record. Then again, what is?
In the short time I’ve spent with the Hoosiers, I’ve seen them described in no shortage of colorfully unflattering ways. “Horrendous”, for one. The “pull-your-teeth-out-at-the-sound-of-them kind of bad”, for another. But I can’t say I share that misery. The Hoosiers worked on me. They sucked me in with their slick, hyper-marketable brand of pop-rock, and now here I am reviewing another one of their albums. I touched on the commercial failure of The Illusion of Safety
in my review of its predecessor, 2007’s The Trick to Life
. Turns out, it was more complicated than I’d realized. Promotion for the album was cancelled, yes, but only after lead single “Choices” failed to reach the top 10 on the charts and the album as a whole had similar luck. The record’s tepid reception can be chalked up to a number of factors, including the increasing unreliability of major labels in the Internet age and the multiyear gap since their debut. Whether it could’ve been saved, I’m in no position to speculate on now. I sure wish it was, though, because it turns out the Hoosiers’ sophomore effort is just as gratifying as its older brother, albeit in some different ways.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle facing The Illusion of Safety
is the inability to pin down exactly who it’s for. Fans of the Hoosiers’ debut might not be satisfied, as it feels like a different band at times, and there were few hints at this change of direction there. The music takes plenty more cues from synthpop and EDM than the quirky indie and alt-rock inspirations of The Trick to Life
. This is evident right off the bat with opener “Choices”, which sets the stage well for the LP’s bubbly sound but never truly takes off. It’s not difficult to argue that the album contains better options for a lead single. Two strong contenders are “Who Said Anything...” and “Unlikely Hero”, two derivative but seriously irresistible cuts bolstered by infectious electropop melodies (“derivative but seriously irresistible”
could be this band’s tagline). The remainder of the album is occupied by an assortment of worthy experiments and well-crafted hooks. The Radiohead-esque mushmouth on “Devil’s in the Detail”, for instance, is a trip. Spearheaded by drummer Alphonso Sharland on lead vocals, its cold electronic flourishes provide an interesting detour for the record and manage to land relatively softly. The six-minute quasi-epic “Sarajevo”, meanwhile, sees the group reach a new level of songwriting maturity and shows off their considerable storytelling prowess. Singer Irwin Sparkes continues to impress throughout, displaying greater consistency to make up for the lack of erratic creativity offered by much of their debut. Sparkes has the kind of voice that goes with any kind of upbeat music, and it thankfully avoids becoming a casualty of the band’s sound shift. If he ever gets too over-the-top, it’s with “Glorious”, a bombastic synthpop number with a chorus tailor-made for big venues that evokes the Killers’ post-2006 work. But even at their most annoyingly anthemic, the Hoosiers provide a sense of self-awareness that outfits like the Killers often lack (not that Day & Age
doesn’t have its moments, mind you). There’s not just a beating heart here, but a working mind as well, and it puts them a step above. You could do worse for modern pop.
The Illusion of Safety
provides nothing all that incredible, but my first few listens had me brimming with joy, which is a feat few works can accomplish. Tracks like “Live by the Ocean” and “Made to Measure” are so delightfully upbeat I felt like jumping up and down more than once as I played them. As with The Trick to Life
, the Hoosiers successfully capture the listener’s most basic emotions and run with them. It still just works
, even if it comes from a different place. Following up on their prior success, the Hoosiers could’ve easily maintained and refined the sound that had made listeners tick three years prior. It would’ve been a safer bet, which is reflected by this LP’s subpar showing. But they took another route, and that alone deserves respect. You can tell how much fun they had writing this grandiose exclamation of a record (although maybe not recording it), and the love just pours out. It’s hard not to have that love seep into you as you listen. Wanting to pull my teeth out at the sound of them, not so much.