Neon Trees disappoint with lackluster album

April 22, 2014

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Is there a distinction between pop and rock anymore? From a strictly stylistic perspective, rock is perhaps rawer, less glossy and more abrasive. There is a degree of accessibility to rock and roll because musicians do not need a studio to create it, and instead they rely on simply a guitar, a bass, a drum set and amplifiers.

Often, rock proves more memorable than pop, even when it is bad. 1979’s “My Sharona” is almost universally recognized, yet many contemporary listeners do not  know Robin Scott’s “Pop Muzik,” another No.1 hit from the same year. Something about the “My Sharona” compels listeners to return to it, making it unforgettable.

If memorability is a crucial characteristic of rock music, then Neon Trees is definitely not a rock band.

The group’s latest record, “Pop Psychology,” is more or less a throwaway, consisting almost entirely of filler that strives to be substantial but is not. The stellar production on the album makes “Pop Psychology” seem more substantial than it actually is.

Still, the instruments all blend with each other beautifully. It is therefore difficult to distinguish one instrument from each other. Tyler Glenn’s voice has an endearing country twang that complements Christopher Allen’s bubblegum punk riffs.

“Love in the 21st Century” would be much more enjoyable if it relied less on 21st century electronic gloss and put more substance into its lyrics, which easily could have been a poignant turn for the record. These lyrics lament the loss of romantic practices of the 20th century, because without said gloss the song would not exist.

“American Zero,” evidently a satire on American identity, would have been decidedly more biting if the sliding crunch of the guitar was more reminiscent of the Clash than of OK Go.

The lyrics read like the confessions of an adolescent hipster with an obsessive passion for Beat poetry — shallow stuff. The offerings are all comprehensible with just a bit of surface-level analysis. Accessibility is always desirable to some degree, but it is worth little when the message is so trifling.

Stated succinctly, “Pop Psychology” is flash-in-the-pan sort of pop music — it is an easily forgettable record. The lyrics are shallow and uninspiring, and ultimately the album is not rewarding.

That, in fact, may be the difference between rock and pop. Pop’s M.O. is listenability, while rock tends to have more in mind. “Pop Psychology” seems an appropriate title after all.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 22 print edition. Chris Feldsine is a staff writer. Email him at music@nyunews.com.

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