Supermodel is different. Different from other albums, yes, but also different from Foster the People’s first offering, Torches, which provided the laid back, sunny soundtrack to my 2011 summer. A great debut album, yes, but what they wanted from their musical career, no.
The LA band’s commercially successful first single,Pumped Up Kicks, focused on the delicate issue of high school shootings in America, however, when the message was ignored, despite the media exposure, Mark Foster and his band feared that that was it for their aim of creating gritty, hard hitting music that really spoke to people in a way beyond that of today’s popular music Foster claimed that it was “hard for [him] when young kids sang [Pumped Up Kicks]. This is from where the darker feel of Supermodel has stemmed, the first port of call being to cut back on the light, happy sounds that lifted Torches into the spot light, but also masked the harsh realities conveyed in the lyrics.
My first listen of Supermodel was a disappointing one, disappointment I blame entirely on myself. Nothing else did an offbeat, happy feeling likeTorches and I’d been waiting for 3 years for the same band to give me that back. Mistake. The same is not always better. Despite not being what I had expected, further listenings enlightened me to what the band was looking for. This music isn’t as commercially accessible but it definitely is beautiful.
The chorus of lead track Are You What You Want To Be? gives a pleasant reminder of the band’s past life but quickly gives way to the dark, noir sound of the rest of the album. Front man Mark Foster’s wanderlust, exhibited by his years of travelling alone after the debut record to “explore music”, is definitely transferred to the sound of the album. It incorporates African and Eastern sounds throughout creating a fuller sound and depth to each song.
Despite the change in sounds, Foster’s distinctive vocals and haunting song writing remain the same, however, his lyrics are plagued with themes of change, identity and belonging, obviously ideas with which he was battling on his travels. Previous influences are still visible in places, for example the track Goats in Trees sees Foster abandon his trademark tone for a much deeper vocal, much more strongly resembling an early Rufus Wainwright song than any other track onSupermodel. This seemingly rouge piece, though, is pleasantly refreshing. It reminds you that change has been an integral part of the making of this album and leaves you wondering what the future has in store for this shape-shifting ensemble.
Supermodel is truly an achievement. It sums up the life of Mark Foster, perfectly delivering his thoughts and feelings during a period of exploration and wonder. For old fans, this is not what you remembered. For music lovers, this is an inspiring example of a band achieving their creative aim and there’s beauty in that alone.