Neon Trees has always had a special place inside my heart. They were one of the bands that caused me to fall in love with indie music. Their 2010 debut Habits burst into my life like a monkey out of a barrel. It provided the soundtrack to my shift from the brutal sounds of heavy metal to the irresistibly fun hooks of indie-rock. Their 2012 release Picture Show saw me straddling the gap between indie kid, metalhead and punk. I like to refer to that as my “awkward phase”. I now bridge the gap between most music genres but that is beside the point. I was incredibly excited upon hearing that Neon Trees would be releasing their third album, Pop Psychology.
That excitement was dampened upon hearing the album’s first single, “Sleeping With a Friend”. Everybody gave this track such high praise but it just didn’t do much for me. On its own, it is a brilliant song, taking that old ’80s disco sound and giving it a fresh, modern twist. It is a throbbing indie-pop song that is filled with well-baited hooks. Despite the song’s brilliance, it just failed to do anything for me. I kept thinking back to their lead single “Animals” off of Habits. It was this massively upbeat pop song yet at the same time it had a “dark” kind of attitude to it. “Sleeping With a Friend” just lacks the attitude that made me love Neon Trees.
There are times where Neon Trees try to recapture that attitude in tracks like “Love in the 21st Century”, “Text Me in the Morning” and “I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends)”. That upbeat attitude is present in the songs but it has shifted from being an almost-punk attitude to a cutesier attitude. Don’t get me wrong though; these are truly tremendous tracks, yet the attitude seems to be contrived and is no longer as raw as it used to be. There has been a lot of production polish applied to Pop Psychology compared to their previous albums.
“Unavoidable” and “Voices in the Hall” see a much more mature sound come out of Neon Trees. They are the ballads of the album and take on a less upbeat sound than the rest of the songs. The two are poppy in nature and see Tyler Glenn and Elaine Bradley perform vocal duties in a duet form. They also reflect the mature lyrical themes of Pop Psychology – of love and growing up, yet they are approached from a mature perspective instead of hopeless romantic ideals of traditional pop music.
Pop Psychology preserves Neon Trees’ ability to write brilliant and witty lyrics. Lyrics like “I don’t believe making out is a dead romance / I miss the days being kids simply holding hands” reflect a stance on love that has not been sullied by modern ideals. “You are never going to get/ everything you want in the world” shows how Glenn has grown up. Other lyrics like “I thought you didn’t go that way” make subtle reference to the vocalist coming out as gay. Overall, the lyrical themes seem to contradict the traditional pop ideals which make the title Pop Psychology an ironic name.
Pop Psychology is a more mature record than Neon Trees’ previous releases. If you look at their albums, you can almost see the process of maturing. Habits was the 15-year-old teenage rebel, while Picture Show was more mature and in its late 20s. Pop Psychology feels like it has got a 9-5 job and a house with a picket-fence. It is the logical progression for a band to mature as it grows up but at the same time, Neon Trees has always been known for their concoction of attitude-filled indie-pop. It is probably going to be a lot like Blink 182’s Neighbourhoods and will end up growing on me but until then, I’m just not feeling it.