In 2004, the Zach Braff film Garden State turned The Shins’ first record into a “life-changing” phenomenon. Since then, numerous film’s soundtracks have tried to recreate that rom-com/indie-pop pairing, but few have been able to pull it off with the same results. In many ways, the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack was one of the first to succeed with that formula by introducing the world to Australian indie rock band The Temper Trap. The band had moved from relative obscurity to worldwide popularity in a matter of a few months with their single “Sweet Disposition” drawing in fans from across the mainstream-indie spectrum. The song’s hooks were stadium-ready, and frontman Dougy Mandagi’s soaring falsetto felt like a new alternative to Chris Martin.
But now it’s 2012 and it’s time for The Temper Trap to reintroduce themselves: A self-titled album. A new, confident sound. As the blaring synths open their would-be international hit “Need Your Love,” you can almost hear them discussing how “using synthesizers” would be a great way to reinvent themselves. To be fair, their debut LP Conditions was as safe a Euro-rock album as one could make. Furthermore, “Love Lost” probably wasn’t any less juvenile and repetitive than their new single “Need Your Love.” The vulnerability of Mandagi’s shaky vibrato had been unique enough to keep people from paying too much attention to the lyrics—but some redefining of the band still sounded like a good idea.
What we’ve got with this new album is an attempt at capitalizing on the band’s successes by making everything about their sound more radio-friendly—and that’s exactly my impression of how these songs sound. A lot of the personality and sincerity that came along with Mandagi’s vocals has been traded out for a boisterous, in-your-face helping of tuned vocals that resemble just about every band out there dreaming of packing out stadiums like U2 and Coldplay. It gets even worse on “London’s Burning,” the band’s attempt at addressing the increasing youth protest striking up around Europe. Not only does the song feel totally out of place on this record, it feels shallow on almost every level, as if giving lip service to the European youth protests and The Clash is enough to keep the band “relevant.”
But for a group who is now decidedly a pop band, the worst thing that could happen wouldn’t be shallow lyrics or contrived attempts at reinventing their identity. Whether it’s the straight-up laziness of “Where Do We Go From Here” or the total lack of inspiration on “The Sea Calling,” the thing that truly plagues The Temper Trap’s sophomore album is its gaping lack of catchy songwriting—a quality that Conditions had always kept intact. Despite the new overproduced pop sound, most of the songs here end up feeling dull and flat. The few standouts here like the tracks “Miracle” and “This Isn’t Happiness” that capture some of the flavor of Condition are overshadowed by a collection of songs that are trying way too hard to present themselves as the next big thing.
I always pay attention when a band releases a self-titled album. It’s a means of redefining themselves—a way of reintroducing themselves to the world. Sudden, unexpected success is always dealt with different ways—and truthfully, redefining yourself as a band isn’t such a bad idea. Unfortunately, the only thing that The Temper Trap’s self-titled album proves is that they may have been a one-hit wonder all along.