Music Reviews
The Temper Trap

The Temper Trap The Temper Trap

(Glassnote) Buy it from Insound Rating - 4/10

The Temper Trap’s 2009 debut, Conditions, had so many shamelessly obvious influences that it’s difficult to draw the line between their influences and their originality.  Between U2, Coldplay, Radiohead, Muse, and just about any other alternative rock band that has received mainstream attention, The Temper Trap have meshed these radio-friendly aesthetics into their songs, making their own presence practically anonymous.   Still, their debut was hard to write off completely, and that’s mostly due to singer Dougy Mandagi’s dynamic and passionate falsetto.  No matter how many times I hear Sweet Disposition, some part of me is going to imagine Mandagi belting that chorus from the top of a mountain into the valley below.  But one moving single and a few indie rock pastiches don’t make a good debut, so any chance at proving their worth comes in their newest, The Temper Trap

About thirty seconds into the album’s first track, the lead single Need Your Love, it’s clear that The Temper Trap are ditching indie rock and making their break for monolithic stadium pop.  Big synth riffs (which is in vogue) pulse beneath an overly operatic Mandagi, which may just be his audition for Glee.  Not only is it overproduced, but it strips all the dynamics to his voice, limiting his singing to one in-your-face volume.  It’s enough to warrant a quick break to listen to Mandagi’s falsetto on Conditions highlight Love Lost, just to ensure that his voice did indeed have something more to it.  In this volume trip, perhaps Mandagi has forgotten that it’s the contrast between a belted note and a whisper that makes a voice truly dynamic.

There are moments on the album where the last-ditch attempt at indie pop is not entirely lost, but I can’t let this one song slide.  Now that members of band have moved from Melbourne to London, it seems that the unnecessary calling to write a song about last year’s riots was answered.  London Burning begins with audio from what sounds like news reports and interviews regarding the riots, which leads to a pretty standard synth infused post-punk beat.  With a cheesy chant-along “Hey, London’s burning!” and lyrics that spoof every sentiment of the late-70s English punk scene (“broken dreams,” “no future,” and, oh yeah, the song’s title) without actually providing any case for protest, it’s clear that this is yet another case of mistaken identity for The Temper Trap.

It should be noted that the production value on this album far surpasses that of Conditions, and it gives the band more avenues for expansion.  The cosmic-sounding harmonies on Trembling Hands give an otherwise average Coldplay-esque pop song the Eno treatment.    The chief producer for the album, Tony Hoffer, recently produced Foster the People and M83, so synth-infused indie pop such as The Temper Trap is the suitable forte for his work.   Unfortunately, unlike M83, there are few moments where the songwriting matches the expansive production. 

The most enjoyable moments on the album are the ones where, quite rightly, The Temper Trap are not gloating about in another band’s shoes.  While Miracle and The Sea is Calling just scream Radiohead, songs like Rabbit Hole, I’m Gonna Wait, and This Isn’t Happiness sound the closest to what an authentic Temper Trap sound would be (then again, maybe I just can’t spot the influence). 

Unfortunately – and I say this sincerely, because I was looking forward to this album as much as anyone – the songwriting on this album is too bland to really get attached to.  Yes, Conditions was a pretty average album in its own right, but the ambitions of a band making a name and eagerly wearing its influences have a certain charm.  But when it comes to developing and honing the craft of songwriting to present a signature sound with a variety of ideas, The Temper Trap fall short.  To be honest, I enjoy some of the songs on this album; however, I still have no idea what make The Temper Trap distinct aside from the sound of Mandagi’s voice.  Until they provide us at least with this, I’ll just stick with the originals.