Music, Recorded, Reviews

The Temper Trap – Thick as Thieves album review

| |

There’s always something worrying about an album that is described as “a consolidation of what made the band matter to people in the first place” and “the sound of a band who have taken risks but have also re-connected with why they fell in love with music in the first place”.

That’s especially true for an album from an artist who is only on to their third record. The difficult second album syndrome is a curse that afflicts many artists for many reasons but many others have fallen under it a lot harder than The Temper Trap.

Their 2012 self-titled sophomore album wasn’t really that bad, but the moodier, more down tempo tracks failed to captivate the public in the same ways the hits Sweet Disposition, Fader and Science of Fear did from their barnstorming 2009 first album Condition.

They took some risks on The Temper Trap but they failed to pay the dividends the band was probably hoping for. A back to basics approach can work wonders for some —Ladyhawke recently pulled off the same trick with aplomb – but Thick as Thieves doesn’t really sound like a band re-engaging with its roots. It sounds like an act unsure of their artistic direction who have whacked together some songs in a way that seems familiar rather than right.

The Temper Trap have all the ingredients to make an outstanding album; it’s a shame they don’t have a recipe to put them together.

The production on this album comes from a guidebook marked ‘Stadium Sound’ with chapters penned by the likes of U2, Coldplay and Kings of Leon. But say what you like about those previously named bands, when they landed in massive, multi-tiered venues they had the songs to back them up.

Applying the staple techniques — reverb on guitars set to 11, faux-anthemic “waoh-ooh” chanted chorus, non-ironic deployments of lyrical clichés – can sound appropriate when applied correctly. These stadium-sized sounds are supposed to be a uniting force, tapping into some basic shared human elements as they paint with broad strokes and employ vague metaphors.

But blowing up their sound to extreme on Thick as Thieves reveals the hollowness of this record rather than the band’s readiness for giant arenas. The album sounds bloated, bland and uneasily artificial.

It’s a shame because lurking underneath the battalion of uninteresting arrangements and  mediocre single word song titles (that sound like they’re from Chris Martin’s bottom drawer Alive, Burn, Lost — hang on, that actually is a Coldplay song) are some nice tunes and the basis of some great ideas.

Album opener Thick as Thieves kicks things off with a menacing swampy vibe and displays the heavenly falsetto of singer Dougy Mandagi, while the up-tempo shouty chorus (that literally goes “making noise and shouting/ shouting”) plays to the band’s strengths.

Pre-album single Fall Together starts off with a great little instrumental before seguing into a verse featuring an arpeggio-driven arrangement and accompanied by one of Mandagi’s best little melodies. It’s a pity it then hits the button marked ‘big’ for the chorus and most of the interesting elements drip into blandness.

Late album highlight What If I’m Wrong is a well-needed dose of delicate reflection and restraint, full of shimmering vibrato guitars and a melody that is descendent of Crowded House’s Better Be Home Soon.

In isolation the songs are all pleasant, inoffensive and quite likeable. The problems emerge when you string them together and the lack of sonic variation and imagination start to grind. Thick as Thieves is the sound of a band with great potential but unsure of itself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *