IT hasn’t always been easy to be Foster The People. Making sophisticated pop with thoughtful lyrics in danceable, candy-coated hooks is like being a character actor trapped in a leading man’s body. If that’s the case, then Foster The People resemble Brad Pitt on their third studio album.
Sacred Hearts Club gets the delicate mix right, getting progressively more complex as you go through the album, delivering pure shimmering pop like Pay The Man and Sit Next To Me at the beginning, and ending with a glimpse of the LA-based band’s ambition in such complex, thrilling songs as Loyal Like Sid & Nancy and Harden The Paint.
Led by lead singer, guitarist and keyboardist Mark Foster, the band has undergone changes since it created hits like Pumped Up Kicks and Houdini. The trio is now a quartet, with multi-instrumentalist Isom Innis also helping produce.
On the 12-track Sacred Hearts Club – two cuts are interludes – Foster The People get help from The Hunger Games actress Jena Malone on the airy Static Space Lover and OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder on the catchy first single, Doing It For The Money.
Making ambitious pop isn’t easy – just ask Phoenix or Glass Animals – but Sacred Hearts Club is way more musically consistent than Foster The People’s last offering, the complex, ultimately unsatisfying Supermodel in 2014. This time, the band pairs joyous melodies with thought-provoking content in ever-increasing complexity and lets you find your sweet spot. But here’s the thing: You will find it. Mark Kennedy/AP OFFA Rex is a collaboration between British folk musician Olivia Chaney and bookish American indie-rock band The Decemberists. With Chaney taking almost all the lead vocals, the explicit template comes from British folk-rock bands, circa 1970, such as Steeleye Span, Sandy Denny-era Fairport Convention, and Shirley Collins with the Albion Band. Chaney sings these canonical songs beautifully, in a clear, forceful, often melancholy soprano.
Willie o’Winsbury and The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face are sparse and direct, but Sheepcrook And Black Dog and The Old Churchyard, are heavy and dramatic, with echoes of the Decemberists’ progrock opus The Hazards Of Love. Throw in an instrumental jig or two, and The Queen Of Hearts is deliberately anachronistic – an echo of a style that itself was an echo of centuries’-old traditions. But it’s a successful reenactment. – Steve Klinge/The Philadelphia Inquirer/Tribune News Service. RONALD and Ernie Isley team up with Carlos Santana on the vigorous Power Of Peace, putting their stamp on mostly spiritually inclined songs from the likes of Marvin Gaye, Billie Holiday, Bacharach & David and Swamp Dogg.
Ronald Isley guested on Santana IV, the 2016 album which reunited most of the band’s original lineup, and the collaboration continues here, with Santana’s current band providing the foundations and Ernie Isley’s guitar pyrotechnics proving a harmonious foil for the band leader.
Versions of Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions’ Gypsy Woman, a pair of Chamber Brothers songs, Leon Thomas’ Let The Rain Fall On Me, Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) and Eddie Kendricks’ Body Talk stick close to the originals, sometimes adding an excessive dose of intensity.
Santana lets it rip near the end of the seven-minute God Bless The Child, otherwise an oasis of restraint, and Ronald Isley is in great form throughout.
Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground is pushed over the top and ends up sounding like an audition for an NBA promotion, name-checking many of the league’s legends and stars.
Cindy Blackman Santana wrote the record’s sole original, I Remember, which she sings with Ronald Isley. The ballad is a true revelation – tonal shades of Brazil and Santana’s delicate guitar lines heighten the regret. Hopefully Blackman Santana, married to Carlos and also the band’s astonishing drummer, will contribute more songs to the next album.
Reinforcing their advocacy, the Isleys and Santana close shop with parochial school and Christmas stalwart Let There Be Peace On Earth. Indeed. – Pablo Gorondi/AP
Foster The People — Sony Music
Foster The People Sacred Hearts Club Sony
Offa Rex The Queen Of Hearts Nonesuch
The Isley Brothers & Santana Power Of Peace Sony