The much-hyped sophomore album has proven an enigma for most bands. More often than not, indie buzz bands release follow-up albums that are intentionally completely different from their first, if only to show that they don’t want to be the same as they were (even if they really are the same as they were). Lately, these sophomore albums have tended to disappoint early fans while at the same time pleasantly surprising many reviewers. In short, the sophomore album is generally less accessible but ultimately more rewarding.
Foals’ sophomore album, Total Life Forever, is no exception. A sophomore album circa 2010 means a trade-off between the rowdiness of unbridled energy and conveying some degree of sonic maturity. This generalization applies surprisingly well to Foals, as the guiding principle of Antidotes, their 2008 debut album, is best described as a total lack of restraint. Two years later, they’ve clearly settled down a bit. Where Antidotes had jumpy, frenetic anthems, TLF has dramatic epics. Surprisingly enough, Foals have demonstrated that behind the colossal, hype-fueled façade propped up by Antidotes lurked a bunch of mature, qualified and thoughtful musicians who could do something more than just write hooks. Few buzz bands pull this off, and even fewer pull it off in such a short time.
The process of calming down may seem like a blanket oversimplification of the concept of sonic maturity. That being said, on TLF, gone are the youthful shenanigans of yester-album. In their place have appeared a number of legitimately deep songs. We did get a decent spoonful of this maturity on Antidotes, but the best songs were clearly the high-energy ones. However, the best songs on TLF are mellow. Sure, for every hit (the compelling “Black Gold”), you have a miss (the horribly awful ‘80s-inspired romp known as “Miami”). But with one (or three) exceptions, TLF represents such a high degree of worldliness that you may start wondering how two years could lead to decades’ worth of introspection and development – is it artificial maturity? Did Foals purposely saturate their recent album with Maturity in an effort to give the impression of maturity? Who knows. Maybe that’s a question you don’t really ask. It’s probably for the best that you just take TLF’s craftsmanship and care at face value. 4/5 stars