Caught in a materialistic economy we did not create, faced with a job market that still offers us primarily low-wage service-sector drudgery, many Millennials find themselves wondering if something more is not possible, whether our modern society has rather radically misplaced its priorities, and whether we can do anything about it. This quest for greater meaning has become so pervasive among Millennials that some are heralding the rise of a new “purpose economy.” I tend to think such utopians underplay the insidious power of mature global capitalism in shaping our values and our lives. Either way, though, the search for meaning in midst of a social order that prioritizes profit over purpose is a primary concern for much of my generation. It’s also a primary concern for Mark Foster as he seeks to establish himself as more than a mere popsmith on Foster the People’s sophomore effort, Supermodel (2014).
The record opens with a question many young people are asking of themselves these days: “Are You What You Want to Be?” With syncopated verses that recall Vampire Weekend and a high-octane, purpose-seeking chorus, it might even seem a little calculated, as if it were crafted specifically to appeal to those dissatisfied Millennials described above. If that’s the case though, you can hardly blame Ford – before Foster the People took off, he was writing commercial jingles in L.A. You don’t land a gig like that if you don’t have an ear for a hook. And calculated or not, it’s the gigantic, wordless hook that propels Supermodel‘s lead track into the stratosphere, offering a musical answer to its title: “Maybe not yet, but anything’s possible.”
“Are You What You Want to Be?” is followed by two tracks that rival it, and in some ways even surpass it, in their relevance and gripping immediacy. The existential angst becomes more explicit on “Ask Yourself”:
And you say that dreamers always get what they desire
Well I’ve found, the more I want the less I’ve got
Is this the life you’ve been waiting for?
Or are you hoping that you’ll be where you want with a little more?
You can imagine Mark Foster in his L.A. apartment circa 2009, writing 30-second snippets for Honey Bunches of Oats and Verizon and asking himself the same questions. The third track, “Coming of Age,” is perhaps the result of all that self-examination:
I seem to hurt the people that care the most
Just like an animal I protect my pride
When I’m too bruised to fight
And even when I’m wrong I tend to think I’m right
Well, I’m bored of the game
And too tired to rage
It does, indeed, feel like a “coming of age,” as Foster takes a look at his own behaviors and attitudes – and decides to leave behind the ones that are no longer helping him to be “who he wants to be.”
What makes these three songs so powerful is the way in which they marry big questions to big choruses – personal enough to invite introspection on the listener’s part, but still anthemic enough to get your fist pumping, cut from the same highly-produced, catchy cloth as the best songs from 2011’s Torches. (Those wordless falsetto hooks make for effortless sing-alongs too.) In other words, it’s perfect pop music for 20-somethings in 2014, and an important step forward for Foster – 2011’s Torches had much of the same musical energy, but lacked the thematic resonance.
However, as understandable, even necessary, as Foster’s maturation beyond mere popcraft may be to him as a musician and as a person, his songwriting loses its immediacy when he tries to get away from doing what he does best, i.e., popcraft. The thematic concerns of “The Truth” (“I’ve been searching for the directions, and I’m convinced the world doesn’t know what it needs”) and “A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon” (“Now I’m staring at the moon wondering why the bottom fell out – I’ve been searching for answers and there’s questions I’ve found”) are of piece with those of “Ask Yourself.” But set against a middle-of-the-road pop/rock backdrop, it doesn’t have the same oomph. Apart from the a cappella interlude “The Angelic Welcome of Mr. Jones” and the funky, brassed-up “Best Friend,” there’s just not a whole lot of musical interest beyond Track #3.
In the end, then, Supermodel has to give the same answer so many members of my generation do: no, I’m not what I want to be. Not quite, anyway. But for an album that finds its Millennial creator figuring out how to grow up, how to face up to his strengths as well as his limitations, that might only be appropriate. In the meantime, that opening trio should tide us over until Foster the People’s third album, and keep us asking those all-too-important questions.
- My new favorite band: Foster the People (sportsbard.wordpress.com)
- Hot Album Review: Foster the People “Supermodel” (kssunews.wordpress.com)
- Album Review: Foster The People (www.trimmagazine.net)
- Review: Foster the People – Supermodel (rcgoodmanblog.wordpress.com)
- ALBUM REVIEW: Foster The People – Supermodel (popgoesthecharts.wordpress.com)
- 1001 Songs You Should Have On Your iPod (and Why): #147 – Coming of Age (merrymuzak.wordpress.com)