Even if you didn’t drop $10 on a ticket to see 2009’s “500 Days of Summer,” it was probably impossible to spend either that year or the next without hearing The Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition” in one form or another, provided you weren’t studying abroad in Madagascar or something. It was a breakout hit in its purest form, coming from a relatively young Australian band that took the world by storm with a debut album and live show as strong as “Disposition” was infectious.
Does the band’s second record have as strong a hit to match? In short, the answer is no; for the most part, the band has ditched the super-immediacy of prior hits like “Sweet Disposition” and “Fader” in favor of a more complex, mature and restrained sound. Because of this, the band’s self-titled album, The Temper Trap, isn’t quite as accessible as its 2009 debut, Conditions. This doesn’t, however, stop the results of this swap from being a truly fantastic sophomore effort, one with some extremely high highs and relatively few weak patches.
This isn’t to say the band never aims for your attention – “Need Your Love,” “Where Do We Go from Here,” “Trembling Hands” and late gem “Rabbit Hole” are all rather big in terms of their approach, and sound destined for the airwaves. For the most part, though, The Temper Trap has traded its “oh-oh-ohs” and “Drum Songs” for something a bit more contemplative, and created a record that requires a bit more patience than its first.
The notion of the record maintaining an emphasis on restraint may be incomprehensible after you’ve heard the opening track, lead single “Need Your Love,” which is essentially the antithesis of the word “restraint.” Opening the record with an absolutely grating synth line and some over-the-top vocals, “Need Your Love” panders a bit too much, and though it’s at times deliciously campy and boasts a strong chorus, it’s an odd sequencing choice by a band that seems so intent on establishing itself as a serious group.
It’s after you get over this initial hump The Temper Trap‘s intent is met with near-flawless execution. Second track “London’s Burning” is a playfully biting take on recession-era politics, sampling news clips from the 2011 London riots. Though the subject of the song is, well, so last year, it still resonates especially well today, with Greece’s recent economic travails serving as a nice contextual backdrop for the listener. Looking outside of the song’s subject matter, however, one can hear quite well The Temper Trap‘s newfound approach. Rather than ascending into an anthemic chorus, the song instead features some jagged, intertwining bass and guitar parts, which are coated over with vocalist Dougy Mandagi’s falsetto sheen. It’s effective, it’s catchy, but most importantly, it’s a song that reveals more and more with each listen.
Such is the case with many tracks on The Temper Trap, which seem more intent on demonstrating the band’s maturity and employing subtle tricks than immediately demanding the listener’s attention.
Later track “Dreams,” a slow-builder which sounds ready to explode into an anthem at every moment, smartly stays subdued, not drowning the listener with a wall of guitar chords, but instead combining some anthemic vocals with some restrained electronic work. Fourth track “The Sea Is Calling” also plays well below the radar, with some extremely well-orchestrated guitar harmonization that steals the show in the face of a somewhat bland chorus.
It is “Miracle,” however, where this softer approach is used most masterfully – a primarily electronic track, this song showcases newly-hired synth player Joseph Greer’s talents, whose expansive keyboard part serves as the base for some tremolo-heavy guitar and Mandagi’s tear-jerking refrain of “I may not always believe/But you’re nothing short of a miracle/Clever minds may second-guess/But to me you’re a living miracle.” With a lush atmosphere and courageous lyrics beautifully delivered by Mandagi, “Miracle” is a mid-album showstopper.
This usual restraint makes the moments when The Temper Trap does broaden its sound much more memorable. “Trembling Hands” has a wonderfully expansive chorus that immediately triggers memories of Coldplay and U2 in their respective primes, with emotive vocals as Mandagi cries out: “Throw me a line, somebody out there help me/I’m on my own, I’m on my own.” It’s a massive track that hits the listener’s heart in a way most alt-rock bands only dream of doing. “Where Do We Go from Here” begins with a playful, campy synth track a la “Need Your Love,” but manages to create a catchy, bouncy tune without seeming too obvious.
The greatest moment of intensity, however, comes late in the album with “Rabbit Hole,” a song that was teased several months ago and may be not only the best song on this album, but the best song of 2012, period.
Beginning softly and simply with vocals and acoustic guitar, “Rabbit Hole” builds in intensity until it explodes with an onslaught of guitars and drums. What’s more, the song’s got some clever lyrics to boot, and Mandagi’s lilting falsetto cleverly shifts into a more pronounced yell as he tries to stay afloat in this tidal wave of a track. “Rabbit Hole” will leave you reeling.
The Temper Trap‘s choice of an eponymous title for its second album implies that, while the band’s debut served as a strong introduction, it is this record with which the group seeks to prove itself. To put it shortly, the band has succeeded, and The Temper Trap establishes the group as a band that is here to stay.
Though the album has a few weaker moments, such as the aforementioned “Need Your Love” and the bleakly repetitive “This Isn’t Happiness,” for the most part, The Temper Trap has created exactly the kind of second record it needed to, avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump with masterful efficiency and maturity.