Album Review: Neon Trees ‘Picture Show’
I was momentarily excited that Picture Show would be an album for synaesthetes, with musical landscapes creating vivid imagery and allowing the listener to lose his or herself in its kaleidoscopic wonders. Not so much. A more likely reason for the title is that they were inspired by the cinema, and if you listen to Picture Show as a soundtrack to a story, well, that doesn’t really work either.
For the most part, it’s an album of fun, cutely aggressive pop-rock, as was the band’s debut, Habits. The subject matter ranges from teen angst to angst about teen angst, but where their first album was a little nostalgic, I’m not sure this one is speaking to anyone not currently in the midst of their own teenage rebellion. For the rest of us it might seem somewhat unauthentic.
The album’s lead single, ‘Everybody Talks’, is unfortunately lost here following two tracks which sound basically identical to it. It feels better on the radio, but in any case it doesn’t come close to the impact of the bands previous singles, especially ‘Animal’. Which is unfortunate, because as I listened to Picture Show it became fairly clear that the band very much wanted to recreate their first release.
Neon Trees seems on paper to be the perfect pop band for a post-Glee world, but when they shy away from that and try to sound more like The Killers, they falter a bit. They don’t really have any rock credibility, and while they’re a bit old to play high school glee club members, it’s still probably a better fit granted that it doesn’t get too heavy. ‘Teenage Sounds’ wants to be hard, but the title doesn’t necessarily end up coming across as sarcastic. They have a particular faux-edgy attitude which only really works when they don’t take themselves very seriously.
The album’s second act seems to try to ascend beyond the fluffy stuff. ‘Trust’ takes a much different tone than any other track on Picture Show, but the message of feeling trepid and paranoid about friendships seems, if not a wholly misguided message to send to teens, at least a little bit like a cheesy PSA.
The band would appear to have some ire for fame and the concept of celebrity, which may or may not be a slightly bitter stance for a group without any very well-known players. ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ is as acerbic as one might assume, listing off dead celebrities while comparing love, fame, and addiction. They declare at the end of ‘Teenage Sounds’ that “Fame is dead!” Somebody needs to get to work on a sextape.
The sounds here are identical to those of Habits, and it’s really hard to say that they have improved anything. Picture Show is the weaker of the two albums, but it should still please anyone who liked the earlier release. I don’t want to be too critical of the record, because it’s pretty good for what it is, but it’s always fairly disappointing when a band gets stuck in place. Moreso when they can’t quite pull it off again.