Neon Trees do neo-new wave up right on third LP Pop Psychology
Neon Trees • Pop Psychology • Mercury • US Release Date: April 22, 2014
“Sleeping With a Friend” was the first thing that caught my eye about alternative band Neon Trees’ third LP, Pop Psychology. The cover of the latest album didn’t hurt, but having never heard the single, the title itself was enough to grasp my interest – DON’T JUDGE ME! After all, don’t they say that ‘sex sells’? But honestly, that’s beside the point, and “Sleeping With A Friend” is definitely much tamer than had it been performed by an R&B or rap artist – that’s almost definitely a blessing. What Pop Psychology does have that makes it a successful album is plenty of energy and the upmost consistency. Maybe shock value isn’t part of Neon Trees’ arsenal, but they have plenty of other goods to offer.
“Love in the 21st Century” kicks off Pop Psychology exceptionally, with an overall air of ‘feel-good’. The production work is balanced, never sounding under- or overproduced. The songwriting stands out, particularly on the chorus: “I guess it’s love / in the 21st century / oh oh it’s touch / broken heart technology / your kisses taste so sweet / but then you quick delete / love in the 21st century”. “Text Me in the Morning” keeps both momentum and tempo up. Much like the opener, “Text Me” is soundly produced and pleasant. Among notable lines is verse two’s “Woke up all soakin’ wet from last night’s fever / smelling like cigarettes and broken promises…” The third consecutive standout, single “Sleeping With a Friend” is neo-new wave at its best. “We are both young hot blooded people,” front man Tyler Glenn sings on the bridge, “we don’t wanna die alone / two become one, it could be lethal…sleeping with a friend.” Glenn and the band definitely begin Pop Psychology in superb fashion.
“Teenagers in Love” is no slouch either, continuing to exemplify the consistency of Pop Psychology. Once more favoring a quick tempo, “Teenagers in Love” sticks it right to the listener with its speed. Like the majority of the LP, Tyler Glenn never has to tussle with the production in order for his pipes to be heard – he sounds marvelous thanks in part to himself and the vocal production itself. “I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends)” is even feistier than “Teenagers”, finding Glenn adding a few ‘colorful’ words to the mix (if you catch my drift). Still, as fun as “I Love You” is, the scenario presented by Neon Trees is very plausible: “I love you but I hate your friends / they’re all desperate / if you knew what I know would you be ready to go…” The beat thumps on “Unavoidable”, a fine duet between Glenn and Elaine Bradley. It isn’t a reinvention or anything, but is another solid, worthwhile listen. It’s “unavoidable / you are the magnet…pull me in”.
“Voices in the Halls” gives Pop Psychology a more pronounced contrast compared to previous showings. That’s no knock to the previous cuts, but “Voices in the Halls” stark differences makes it shine, keeping Pop Psychology from drifting into sameness and predictability. Eschewing percussive accompaniment initially, though still rhythmic, the brief “Voices” relies on its synths to drive. Eventually, looping, mysterious drum programming adds even more definition to the rhythmic scheme. Haunting, “Voices in the Halls possesses some truly stunning lyrics, particularly on verse one: “I can taste your lemonade / bittersweet like every summer fling / been keeping up with all your stories / talking to your ghost when I’m asleep”. The chorus isn’t quite as poetic, but it gets the job done giving off the ghostly sentiment. The vocal treatment of lyric “In the halls” in particular is a highlight.
The album closes soundly as well, if less electrifyingly compared to the ‘stacked’ opening. “Foolish Behavior” is more straight-ahead compared to “Voices in the Halls”, but that’s no deal breaker; it’s an appropriate contrast. Perhaps “Foolish Behavior” doesn’t have the oomph of a juggernaut the likes of “Sleeping With a Friend”, but it still incites head nodding and foot tapping. So does “Living in Another World”, another well-done neo-new wave joint. Of the penultimate cut, the guitar parts standout in particular. Closer “First Things First” has the distinction of being the album’s lengthiest cut. Length isn’t a factor though, as “First Things First” closes impressively with its clapping drums and intriguing synths.
The overall verdict for Pop Psychology – favorable by all means! It isn’t an album that is innovative, but few are. Additionally, it isn’t an album that necessarily ‘jumps right out at you’, but that’s no shade or shame either. Just because Pop Psychology doesn’t try to reinvent alt and pop music, doesn’t make it inferior in the least – it is far from it. With no misses and most – if not all – of its I’s dotted and T’s crossed, Pop Psychology gets my blessing.
“Love in the 21st Century”; “Text Me in the Morning”; “Sleeping With A Friend”; “Voices in the Halls”