Oftentimes, when a well-loved indie band is set to release a new album, its fans look upon the project with a mix of excitement and nervousness, wondering if the band will maintain its special qualities or make some shocking changes.
Certainly, this sentiment was present among Foster the People’s devotees in anticipation of Sacred Hearts Club, its third LP. There were several signs that the record would be at least slightly different from the indie band’s past work—e.g., the cover art, which was a photograph instead of a cartoonish drawing, and the EDM-influenced single “Loyal Like Sid and Nancy.” Nevertheless, even though the band has evolved, Sacred Hearts Club is still very much a Foster the People album.
Truth be told, if you’re one of the fans who thought that Supermodel was the perfect musical direction for FTP, you might be uncertain about it at first—but ultimately, you’ll find yourself enthralled by its surreal sonic landscape, as well as Mark Foster’s always-poetic lyrics.
In classic Foster the People fashion, Sacred Hearts Club begins with a confluence of strange sounds. In “Pay the Man,” as Foster repeats the words “What you mean?” as if he just woke up from a confusing dream, both a muted laugh and a distorted voice can be heard in the background, assuring listeners that Foster the People is as interesting as it’s ever been. The song’s a little more rambling then the tracks on Torches, but that’s okay—the instrumentation is so intricate that you’ll discover something new every time you hear it. Lyric-wise, it strikes a balance between previous openers “Helena Beat” and “Are You What You Want to Be?” Like “Helena Beat”-era Foster, “Pay the Man”-era Foster has found himself in a slippery situation (“Call out for help ‘cause I’m playing with fire”), but like “Are You What You Want to Be?”-era Foster, “Pay the Man”-era Foster is able to see hope even in the darkest of times (“Say what you love, it’s all right/Don’t be afraid to find your light”). Overall, the song sets the tone for the rest of the record by blending the personal and the political—something that the band has always done, but embraces in a new way in these 12 tracks, striding through the door it opened when “Pumped Up Kicks” became its signature song.
After “Pay the Man” ends, we’re plunged into the bass-heavy triumph that is “Doing it for the Money,” a more traditionally structured, hook-filled single. One of the most straightforward Foster the People songs, its lyrics read like an inspirational speech that would be given at a rally. That’s far from a bad thing. Foster’s writing is as poetic as it’s ever been here—just more direct. This is Trump-era Foster the People, and as the lyrics state, it’s “shouting to the world” in order to get its message across. Next up is “Sit Next to Me,” another highlight. This groovy gem sounds like MGMT at its poppiest with a hint of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories at its most fun. Foster’s vocals shine—especially when he sings the word “high,” showing off his impressive range. The song’s also got a great bassline, although it’s not quite on the level of previous bassist Cubbie Fink’s work in “Pumped Up Kicks” and “Best Friend.”
The album’s trend of upbeat-seeming, but thematically heavy songs continues with “SHC” and “I Love My Friends.” The former is a glossy, guitar-fueled single in which Foster asks, “What’s real?”—the same kind of philosophical exploration he engaged us in on past albums. The latter is a bit mysterious. Is it an optimistic song about unconditional love for others, or a bittersweet song about hanging out with the wrong people? Either way, the conversational tone of the lyrics is endearing, and the sound of Foster singing “I love my friends” is the sound of pure joy.
With “Orange Dream,” there’s a shift. This interlude, a burst of ‘60s-influenced psychedelic rock, is gorgeous, but haunting—well, as haunting as an interlude that ends with the words “Dr. Funkenstein” can be. It suggests that some kind of change is going to come. And indeed, it does. From this point on, the album ventures into territory that Foster the People hasn’t explored at length in the past. Don’t worry, though—the band’s core spirit is present until the end.
“Static Space Lover” is the first Foster the People track to feature a guest vocalist. When Jena Malone sings, it’s a bit of a surprise at first—but her part is ultimately the song’s best feature, supplying all of the expressiveness that the lyrics warrant. “Lotus Eater” instantly evokes comparisons to bands like The Strokes and Phoenix, but it’s still got FTP’s unique vibe—just listen to Foster’s backing vocals. yelps, and laughs.
The final track on the album is “III,” but the track you’ll be thinking about when Sacred Hearts Club comes to an end is the aforementioned “Loyal Like Sid and Nancy.” As you might guess from its title, which references the tumultuous relationship between Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, the song is essentially a series of clever metaphors presented at a rapid-fire pace, which might make you wonder whether Foster was a slam poet in another life. Sonically, the song’s the least like what Foster the People has done before—the verses are almost rapped, and certain sections sound like the kind of music you might hear at a club. That makes the song especially interesting when you consider its dark, but stellar lyrics, which include “Satan lies in satin tweets and realigns his facelift” and “We all pretend one day we’ll be the greatest of the Gatsbys.”
Sacred Hearts Club is a step in a new direction, but true to Foster the People’s ethos. It might not suit all longtime fans’ taste, but it’s beautiful in its honesty and hope. If you don’t like it the first time, give it another listen—it deserves to fall upon attentive ears.