There’s something about The Temper Trap’s Dougy Mandagi’s voice that’s enchanting. The cooed falsetto and Jeff Buckley-esque vocals that made the band’s single “Sweet Disposition” from their 2009 debut album, Conditions, a massive international hit. But Mandagi’s distinctive voice alone is not enough. In the case of The Temper Trap, it takes five to make a solid band and a great record; and it takes even more to instil passion into the numbers. But with the recent release of the band’s eponymous second offering, even Mandagi’s voice can’t be the excuse for me to pardon the band’s passionless sophomore slump.
Indeed, “Sweet Disposition” has set the bar high – songwriting wise – and in defining cross indie-mainstream success. Conditions was an exceptional debut, surely the pressure must be high – whatever that follows should leave a similar impact – a chance in pushing the band to a different level where they will be deemed as at par or at the very least ‘significant’ enough to put them on the path to playing arenas along the lines of the success that Coldplay had at this juncture of their career. Most importantly, the follow-up to Conditions one would think that it allows them to prove to the world that they’re more than just a one-hit wonder band.
The Temper Trap opens with first single “Need Your Love,” a ‘80s-inspired synth-heavy number with an infectious chorus hinting the band’s commercial goal that would fit perfectly on any top-40 chart. The band relocated to London from Melbourne in 2009 turns socio-political with second track “London Burning,” an attempt to address a social event that was 2011’s London riot (or was it to have it compared to The Clash’s song of the same title?). The song begins with a sample of the looters interviewed by a newscaster that completely ruins the track. In it, Mandagi sings, ‘Now who’s the one to blame when the children go insane / dancing on their broken dreams while London’s burning from within’. If done right, this could be the kind of song that could inspire but unfortunately socio-political themed-lyric doesn’t suit the band. The song seems just out-of-place and if not too shallow. This is the kind of song that demands greater understanding of the subject matter than mere experience of being an observer.
By the time I get to second single “Trembling Hands,” it was safe to say that: (1) The band is going all radio friendly and stadium-ready with ‘80s-inspired power rock ballads as their bet and; (2) I am not too sure I want to deal with a 12-track record that consists of more cliché than meanings. I’m not saying that they aren’t any good. “Trembling Hands” is not a lousy track and neither are the majority of the songs in the album but after a thoroughly focused first-listen, you just wished you could gain something out of The Temper Trap – something real – perhaps another “Sweet Disposition” or “Fader”? Something with musical/lyrical substance that you could feel the album is somewhat lacking.
“The Sea is Calling” is too dull and flat while “Dreams” will remind you of a lousy ‘80s-choir musical ironically preaching about that lost dreams while the song itself is lacking its’ own. “I’m Gonna Wait” sounds like one of those ‘80s-revisited number from Brit-rock Mystery Jets’ album Serotonin done wrong. Other tracks like “I’m Gonna Wait” and “Never Again” are easily forgettable they should’ve never made into the record.
But The Temper Trap is not entirely disappointing. When “Miracle” came into the picture, it became the miracle I’d been looking for. There, Mandagi’s sincere falsetto enchanted me when he croons, ‘And I may not always believe/But you’re nothing short of a miracle.’ The band gone mellow and sticks true to their indie-flavor, adding some electronic essence into a beautiful song composition making this the most genuine track of all.
Throughout the album, it’s apparent despite great musicianship, sometimes skills and talent are simply not enough. Mandagi and his celebrated falsetto (yup, I praised the falsetto too much in this entry and not his overly-pretentious lyrics) might continue to mesmerize avid listeners like me, but his godly voice has been overshadowed by the overly produced pop and the need to create flashy mainstream-approved numbers. On a positive note, however, it’s unmistakable that in this album, Mandagi gets experimental with his lower tones and they come out as beautiful and as captivating as his falsetto.
The Temper Trap is not entirely a failure (bet they’re expanding fanbase now that their sound is more commercial). It doesn’t scream ‘lousy’ as much as it screams ‘sell-out.’ Most importantly, the album screams that lacking of inspirations and the missing ideas, and the distinctive sound that was The Temper Trap. But then again, with the album being a self-titled, this speaks a lot about how the band perceived their sound… what they wanted it to be; and it can’t be a good reflection of the direction of this Australian quintet with this eponymous sophomore as reference. Like I said earlier, I’m going to pardon the band this time around. I’m gonna let them ponder and hopefully the third album will be bigger and way better. I’m going to wait for that “Sweet Disposition” to be rediscovered.