Monday, April 21, 2014

Album Review: "Pop Psychology" by Neon Trees

Welcome back to another CDS Music Chart album review! Today I will be reviewing Pop Psychology by Neon Trees, the quartet's 3rd studio release since breaking through into the music world back in 2010 with debut single "Animal". Pop Psychology arrives almost exactly 2 years after the Utah band's 2nd studio album, Picture Show, dropped at retailers. Supported by lead single, "Sleeping With A Friend", the album will be issued on April 22nd in the United States and several other major markets. It will eventually arrive in the United Kingdom on July 14th, 2014. It is unknown if the UK version will include bonus tracks. "Sleeping With A Friend" reached as high as #56 on the US Billboard Hot 100 (the biggest tracks in all formats). It has yet to reach the CDS Music Chart Hot 50, but reached #11 on the continuation chart (#61) and peaked at #24 on the Pop Songs component chart. It also reached #9 on CDS Music Chart's Hot Rock Songs top 20. The album's second single "I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends)" was released on March 25th, but has since failed to chart on any charts worldwide including any CDS Music Chat component lists. Two subsequent promotional releases "Voices In the Hall" and "First Things First" were released on April 1st and April 8th respectively. The videos for "I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends)" and "Voices In the Hall" were released on consecutive Wednesdays March 26th and April 2nd. On April 22nd (the day of release), the music video for "First Things First" debuted on VEVO alongside the release of the album at retailers. For a limited time, the album will be available for $7.99 on iTunes to all downloaders. At American retailer Best Buy, the album will be available for purchase for $7.99 with a limited Neon Trees Facebook coupon until the end of this week.

On with the review!

1. "Love In the 21st Century"
The new set starts off with an indulging new track with sweet vocals and a sugary feel good beat. Airbrushed by a soft surf rock vibe, the  pop vocals on "Love In the 21st Century" aren't typical. It's a mutation of several genres that could be best described as a modern day twist on surf pop with some clear new wave influences. Only turnoff; it sounds very much like the band's other radio singles, but not in a bad way. It pops, it's appealing and most of all it is a stellar way to kick off the third studio effort by the Neon Trees.

2. "Text Me In the Morning"
Synths set off and the 80s throwback vibe comes out in this track. Reminiscent of the group's fairly popular "Everybody Talks" (without the extreme rough edges), "Text Me In the Morning" has a punk'd up glam rock vibe with traces of the alternative genre mixed throughout. It's like a late night, run through the boardwalk, play the carnival games anthem with of course the sexual references and provoking content.

3."Sleeping With A Friend"
It's soft, synth-ful and just a straight pop shot. While it remains on the very simple side of things, "Sleeping With a Friend" is classic, refreshing and sounds like a perfect match made in heaven for contemporary radio. It is easily one of Neon Trees' biggest hits to date and one of their most entertaining releases as well. It's a highlight.

4. "Teenager In Love"
The bubbly and fizzy sound continues as we head into the middle section of the collection. While this track seems average, normal and yet again pop radio friendly, it's lyrical content keeps it afloat. As most people that keep up with music now know, the majority of Pop Psychology was written using elements and themes from Tyler Glenn's therapy sessions that began after the release of the band's 2nd album Picture Show back in April 2012. Since then he has "tried to find himself" as a person. This statement is meshed right into this track in particular. Hidden beneath the sticky and sweet bubble-pop stylings of this track, Glenn's fantasies come alive. He isn't afraid to address these issues to hundreds of thousands of fans. I applaud the bravery portrayed on this piece.

5. "I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends)"
It's another clear summer anthem, but there is a distinct quality (maybe multiple in fact) that this track has that makes me want to just move right along to the next song. Maybe it's the questionable chorus that seems a little underwhelming when compared to those contained on the album's first 4 tracks. Maybe it's just the instrumentation (which in some cases can make or break a song). I can't really tell what I don't like about it. It seems unfinished, ruffled and just a little off target in general. With that being said, it is likely to click with most other Neon Trees super fans (called "maniacs"); actually... there's no question about it.

6. "Unavoidable"
In this case, Tyler Glenn shares the spotlight with the lone female Neon Trees member Elaine Bradley in a duet type track. It's amazing. While Neon Trees is no stranger to these types of duet tracks (they have recorded a few for their previous releases), the vocals from Elaine and Tyler included on "Unavoidable" collide with such amazing force. It's an explosion of smoothened vocals and on key instrumentals timed perfectly. While it could be the band's next secret weapon at mainstream success, I suspect that "Unavoidable" will sadly come and go unnoticed by the typically commercialized radio and it's not smart enough to know better audience.

7. "Voices In the Halls"
Bordering on the eerie side of things, this track is a flashback to the lead singer Tyler Glenn's memories of a love that didn't last long enough. The smooth edged vocals are nicely arranged, and while they are tinged by a haunting echo, they express boats loads of passion and emotion. My only complaint is that this track snips off right at the 3 minute mark, giving me the impression that Neon Trees quickly brought the track to conclusion.

8. "Foolish Behavior"
While it is certainly another repeat of previously heard styles, that doesn't mean it's bad."Foolish Behavior" seems like a slightly watered down hybrid of "Animal" and a more mild version of "Everybody Talks". It's nothing new, and not very unique but it seems like a perfectly typical album filler where all the past moments of the 4 year old career of the group meet and mesh together.

9. "Living In Another World"
This track feels just like another neo-pop/rock oriented with a danceable beat and a catchy chorus. But trust me, "Living In Another World" is so much more than just that. Lyrically, the track deals with discomforting choices, substance abuse and even suicide. Most people won't recognize these themes and won't know what I'm talking about until they give it a few listens but for those that know someone who misused medicine or contemplated suicide, it is actually enough to make them cry. I know I cried. This is the definition of being strong. It's one of those double sided tracks that you can tell is both creative and informative.

10. "First Things First"
The catchiness is in full swing. "First Things First" is another winner for Neon Trees. It has a thumping, clapping beat, one hell of a chorus, carefully placed backing vocals and fairly solid lyrics. Additionally, lead singer Tyler Glenn hits some impressive notes. Another strong positive is the fact that "First Things First" is the album's only song to stray past the 5 minute mark (let alone the 4 minute mark). It should have easily been released as the album's second official single (though it wasn't), but obviously the band realizes it could be a future single as they released it as a promo tracks. Promotional tracks have about a 75% chance of being future singles in most cases. A great finisher.

I won't be reviewing since "American Zero" since I don't own the track (I have the physical version of the album; it was not included on any release except the iTunes version).

Rating: 87% (B+)

Overview: Most critics are saying that Neon Trees are "trying too hard" or that this album is "trying to reinvent the 80s without working" or whatever lame excuse they have for not loving this album. I'm not saying it's perfect; nothing is. I'm saying that Pop Psychology is explosive, colorful and quite brilliant. It's sharp, eye popping and nearly all the tracks seem to fit what comes to mind when I say "Pop Psychology" out loud. While irrelevant, even the album's cover strikes the concept head on. There's a multicolored neon brains with the band members surrounding it. The brain is Tyler Glenn's thoughts during his therapy sessions (which eventually turned into songs and sounds). The neon represents the band itself (Neon Trees), and the multicolored part is the different styles of lyrics and emotion compiled into this short 10 track collection. Back on to the music, I would really only have 1 complaint. I felt like several of the album's songs (while being completely different lyrically) were somewhat similar in terms of style, instruments and just vibes I got from it. Don't get me wrong though, the positives of this album severely outweigh the negatives. There were also some clear hits on this album. "Love In the 21st Century", "Sleeping With A Friend", "Unavoidable", "First Things First" and "Living In Another World" were all noticeably strong in different ways. Among those standouts, I would say "First Things First" is my favorite track from the album. "Unavoidable" was a close second place, while I appreciated "Living In Another World" for it's hidden messages and raw emotion. Overall Pop Psychology (while it isn't likely to be a career changer) is yet another solid record from the Utah band. They've shown some serious growth and I am very pleased with their presentation on this album. It has some clear quibbles, but those mistakes were severely outweighed by the feel good neo-pop majority of the album. This one is a winner.

Come back for more this week!

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