Foster the People, "Sacred Hearts Club" (Columbia)
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 L.A.-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."
Lyrically, the band ranges from the obscure to the simple. "Calling all the poets into battle I am," sings Foster. How many pop records use the Arabic phrase "Inshallah" ("God willing")? How many sing about Satan as he "realigns his face-lift"? Equally, when was the last time you heard emotion as straight-forward as "I just wanna say that I love you"?
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 is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits