In December of 2010, when The Temper Trap made a tour stop in Portland, OR, lead singer Dougy Mandagi lamented the fact that the band had been performing the same songs for nearly two years. Mandagi’s sugary falsetto in “Sweet Disposition” propelled the group to alternative radio mainstays, but they were clearly anxious to move beyond their debut, Conditions.
Almost immediately, Mandagi establishes a new vocal identity on the group’s self-titled follow-up, concentrating more on his lower register at the outset. On the synth-driven lead track “Need Your Love”, Mandagi takes all high school choir teachers’ collective advice and sings from his diaphragm. The result is a fuller voice, something between Freddie Mercury and the Scorpions’ Klaus Meine, and it sounds as if he’s trying to reach the cheap seats at a sold-out Wembley Stadium circa 1984.
The biggest deviation from Conditions comes on “London’s Burning”, which chronicles the 2011 riots in England that Mandagi witnessed from his London apartment. Though Mandagi rises into that falsetto of his on the chorus, his vocals play a supporting role to the Clash-like guitar crunches, siren synthesizers, and unison background vocals that evoke “Rock the Casbah” and “London Calling”.
In an attempt to find a new identity, The Temper Trap becomes a 1980s chameleon, channeling The Clash on one song and Erasure on the next before morphing into Spandau Ballet balladeers. The band toggles between synth-heavy stadium rockers and lovelorn power ballads, yielding an insipid final product. Even when Mandagi embraces his recognizable falsetto and The Temper Trap returns to a familiar sound on the fifth track, “Miracle”, Mandagi sounds like he’s trying to re-create something instead of breaking new ground.
The Temper Trap establishes a willingness to experiment on the new album, but the band doesn’t produce anything as accessible as “Sweet Disposition” or “Fader”, the two biggest singles from Conditions. While the new album gives Mandagi new fodder for live shows, fans will most likely still be screaming requests for their earlier songs.
Essential Tracks: “This Isn’t Happiness” and “Never Again”