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Review: The Temper Trap – The Temper Trap

BY THOMAS NASSIFF

  • Release Date: June 5, 2012
  • Record Label: Glassnote/Columbia
  • Rating: 5/10

A new album from The Temper Trap is interesting for a few reasons, I guess. The group struck commercial gold with 2009’s Conditions, creating a record that had a massive single but still enough indie flavor to resonate with all types of music fans.  Then they pretty much disappeared for three years until the release of this self-titled album. Nothing gives away a band’s desire to “change” or “reinvent itself” more than releasing a self-titled record. I’m not sure how The Temper Trap wanted to change, but I wouldn’t say it was a move for the better.

(500) Days of Summer was to “Sweet Disposition” what Garden State was to The Shins’ “New Slang.” The films took songs that were, um, good…and turned them into obsessively adored pieces of heart-strung memory. Using the cliché of movies, I would say that Summer transformed “Sweet Disposition” from a song one might listen to whilst walking on the streets of a rainy city into a song that one might insert as the audio backdrop to a cheaply produced slideshow of black-and-white photos at a wedding or something. The point is, as well as the song performed for The Temper Trap, it’s also a bit of a burden. You simply can’t write another song like that, because songs like that only come along once in a very long while. It takes a unique song mixed with the right situation.

Unfortunately, it seems as though The Temper Trap made a shift in its sound that has brought the holistic style of this self-titled album in a more radio-friendly direction. I’m not insinuating that they were trying to duplicate “Sweet Disposition” – in fact, the pulsing, synthesizer-dominated first single “Need Your Love” shows they weren’t trying to do that at all. The shift in sound, both on that first single and the rest of the album, just doesn’t feel natural, though. It feels soulless, calculated, even manufactured. Dougy Mandagi’s warm falsetto is perhaps not as prevalent as it was on Conditions, with more straightforward, rocking numbers like “Trembling Hands” dominating the tracklist. Many songs are anthemic in style, but listeners might find themselves missing the lighter, catchier sounds of tracks like “Love Lost” and “Science of Fear.”

Certain songs on The Temper Trap are just not worth listening to more than a couple of times. “Miracle” and “I’m Gonna Wait” play out like this band was trying too hard, whereas more songs in the vein of “This Isn’t Happiness” or “Where Do We Go From Here” would have been more appreciated. Even those songs feel like they lack a certain intrinsic oomph. Lyrically, the hesitation and slight fear of Conditions has been replaced be the, uh-oh, more “mature” themes of discontent and love lost and whatever else. But the lyrics are one of the weakest points on the record – knee-jerkingly shallow and cliché, and while metaphors abound, they only manage to provide a dizzying effect.

Things hit rock bottom early on with “London Burning,” the appallingly awful look into the London riots from last year. Slices of broadcasts from the riots do a good job of setting a serious scene, but the song is jerky and overtly unlistenable. Considering how easy it seemed for The Temper Trap to write a catchy song on Conditions, the lack of catchiness on this album is nothing short of a jaw-dropping development. I won’t relegate this group to a one-hit-wonder, because Conditions as a whole was respectable. But a song as bad as “London’s Burning” and a record as instantly forgettable as this self-titled effort might result in The Temper Trap being referred to in the not-so-distant future as “that band that wrote that song in that movie.”

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