The Temper Trap
The Temper Trap
The Temper Trap confound expectations on the follow-up to 2009’s widely successful ‘Conditions’, writes DARREN LEVIN.
In a scathing, two-star review of their new album, UK critic Alexis Petridis likened The Temper Trap’s musing on the London riots to Air Supply taking a stab at Thatcherism. Writing in The Guardian, he said that while “uniquely placed” to write on the riots – having relocated from Melbourne in 2009 – the band had really nothing to say. “The sense of a band who felt impelled to write about the riots without first checking whether or not they had anything to say about the riots is hard to miss,” he wrote, “which might be the Temper Trap's failing in a nutshell.”
Coming in at #2 on the band’s self-titled and long-delayed second album, ‘London’s Burning’ opens with samples of a (fake?) newsreader, reporting on “clashes” with youths in several cities, before segueing into a (real?) interview with a disenfranchised teen who brags about looting the shops he recently handed his resumes to. “It’s payback, innit?” he says, chillingly, like a young Dizzee Rascal; an ominous synth gurgling away in the background. Singer Dougy Mandagi enters the fray with the kind of million-dollar voice that could win The Voice in a canter. “Heavy is the hand pressing down again and again,” he sings in a pure tenor, later asking, “Will tomorrow come for the man stuck in the line?”
The track is otherwise unremarkable; driven by a post-punk riff that probably sounded “urgent” when it came out, but is now polished to the point of hollow perfection. Its intent, however, is what’s key. Mandagi’s take on the city’s simmering tensions may not be ‘London Calling’ MK II – it’s not even The Smiths’ ‘Panic’ if we’re talking in flowery MOR terms – but bereft of other artistic voices on the subject (outside of hip-hop and grime that is), it’s at least trying to make sense of a situation that British mainstream artists seem, for whatever reason, unwilling to broach.
It’s not grandstanding or Bono-like self-importance that drives Mandagi either, as he told me in an interview back in 2009. It was just a few weeks before moving with his bandmates to the London suburb of Hackney, in the eye of the storm so to speak. “I write about what I’m feeling at the time,” Mandagi said. “I like to write about humanity and a lot of our failures and how it relates to the world around us, the environment, the community and ourselves as individuals.” The difference now is he has an audience.
Prior to Conditions, The Temper Trap were just another ambitious Melbourne band writing to no one in particular; now they’re being talked up by Bono and having to answer rip-off claims from The Edge. This unlikely set of circumstances – you could say it’s “an important time for them” – forces you to think big. And while they’ve always thought in grandiose terms (you don’t hire Tony Hoffer or Jim Abbiss to make humble records), this time around it must’ve really felt like the whole world was listening in.
It’s what makes The Temper Trap so confounding, because it’s not really trying to consolidate a pop career. There’s no “Shazam moment” here like ‘Sweet Disposition’, surely the most sync’ed track of 2008. The closest they come is a moody 6/8 number called ‘Trembling Hands’, which is not early as immediate, but given the right set of circumstances – a soft drink commercial, the closing credits of another rom-com, perhaps? – it may well be the ‘Clocks’ to their ‘Yellow’.
The rest of the album is what people will diplomatically call a “slow-burner”, in that it’s supposed to reveal itself the more you listen to it. It’s just another way of saying it’s difficult. Mandagi has admitted to going through a break-up prior to its recording, and you’ve got to hand it to the guy, at least he’s not just putting on a brave face. It’s all there in the titles: ‘Need Your Love’; ‘This Isn’t Happiness’; ‘Where Do We Go From Here’ (ironically, the only bright pop song on this record); the Radiohead-ian ‘Rabbit Hole’; and aptly titled closer ‘Leaving Heartbreak Hotel’, which provides some closure for this wounded bird at least.
“If ‘Conditions’ took The Temper Trap into the stratosphere, this may be the album that thuds them back down to earth.”
In the “electronic press kit” for the album, drummer Toby Dundas – an M+N writer in a past life – said the band had been guilty of being a bit too calculating in the past. “When we get sucked into writing that way, a week or two later when you look back, they don’t really have the soul. They might be shiny, but there’s nothing under the surface.” The Temper Trap may still be contrived melodrama on many levels, but that has more to do with aesthetic choices than heart. Because when you strip away all the studio gloss and needless quest for perfection, this is an album about heartbreak and isolation, but also of five boys from Melbourne trying to make sense of a fantastical world.
If Conditions took The Temper Trap into the stratosphere, this may be the album that thuds them back down to earth. And, you know what? It’s not such a bad place to be.
‘The Temper Trap’ is out now through Liberation.
Listen to ‘The Temper Trap’: