The pop music scene had a bit of a…shall we say, unique edge to it in 2010. Themes of partying and hooking up were strong, and the metaphors were wild–everything from cannibalism to G6s had its moment, for better or worse. Enter Neon Trees, a four-piece pop-rock outfit from Utah named for the iconic trees on the In-And-Out logo. Comprised of singer/keyboardist Tyler Glenn, guitarist Chris Allen, bassist Brandon Campbell, and drummer Elaine Bradley, Neon Trees released a few indie tracks before being discovered by The Killers drummer Ronnie Vannucci at a small Las Vegas club. Vannucci helped find them an opening spot on The Killers’ 2008 tour and helped the band sign with Mercury/Island Def Jam, their home when they hit mainstream popularity with their debut album, Habits, released ten years ago this week.
Opening with the high energy “Sins of My Youth,” Habits kicks off with a bang, confessing sins, both named and unnamed, to a lover. “Go ahead and call me fake/But these are the sins, the sins of my youth/I break habits just to fall in love/But I do it on designer drugs,” Glenn sings, repeatedly asking his lover if they’d love him in spite of his past transgressions and capturing the pop culture tone of the time perfectly. Listeners go on a ride through a rollercoaster of relationships, from yearning for someone to fall for them on the dance track “Your Surrender” to the jazz-tinged jealousy of “In the Next Room.”
It’d be impossible to talk about Habits without mentioning the band’s debut single and breakout song, “Animal.” This catchy, flirty track about trying to convince a friend to become something more (with allusions to cannibalism, of course) took the pop culture world by storm, finding its way into everything from movie trailers (everything from the Chris Evans/Anna Faris rom-com What’s Your Number to dystopian horror film The Purge: Anarchy) to being recorded in Sim-ish for The Sims 3. Truly, “Animal” probably wouldn’t have had quite a big impact if not for its big feature on Glee at its most popular, sung by Blaine and Kurt in an episode terrifyingly called “Sexy.” Several more covers by Taylor Swift, Panic! at the Disco, and defunct boy band The Wanted kept the momentum going, bringing the song to their audiences. Ultimately “Animal” was certified platinum in November 2010, hit #13 on the Billboard Hot 100, and took the top spot on the Billboard Alternative chart.
While Habits at first feels like a fun, frenetic pop rock ride, especially when looking at singles like “Animal” or “1983,” there’s a clever, self deprecating edge that shapes Neon Trees’s sound to this day. The album focuses on love connections of the no-so-healthy variety, as well as just the right amount of self awareness to discuss personal flaws and plenty of vice to go around. There’s an ever-present vibrance to the album, even when the tone dips a little darker for tracks like “Love and Affection” or “Boys and Girls in School,” balancing a darker musicality with consistently fast tempos. The album isn’t perfect, but there’s plenty of good to be found, and plenty of potential that comes to fruition on later albums Picture Show and Pop Psychology. At the time of its release, Habits received mixed reviews and a surprising number of comparisons to the Killers. Positive reviews praised their extremely catchy lyrics and danceability, while negative reviews considered the album vapid and lacking in ambition. While the critics weren’t in agreement about Neon Trees, the music scene was; their popularity earned them opening gigs for bands like My Chemical Romance, Panic! at the Disco, and Thirty Seconds to Mars, as well as multiple charting singles and the ubiquitous use of “Animal.” This success provided the foundation for Neon Trees’s now decade-plus long career, one that still in progress despite a few long breaks for the band. Here’s to hoping that their latest single, 2019’s “Used to Like,” is the starting point for a new album.