Fans of the singer-songwriter should read this review with caution. I will grant Sam Beam …
In the last four years, Two Door Cinema Club has leapt backward in time. Their latest release, Gameshow, sports an apropos cover, three neon bars of purple and aquamarine reflecting off crumpled mylar, the material of an anachronistic 1980s dance party future. It’s this future the album reaches for sonically too, straying further from the band’s alt-rock beginnings on 2010’s Tourist History, into the synthier realm of their 2012 album, Beacon, and beyond.
Gameshow is their most produced project yet, driven on waves of fuzzy synths and crisp sampled drums, interlaced with layered guitar and effected vocals. The rhythm section finds its groove between Tame Impala’s 2015 Currents and Daft Punk’s 2013 Random Access Memories, while also looking further back to period classics like Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues and Tears for Fears’ The Hurting.
The most notable difference here is in the vocals. TDCC’s early songwriting emphasized the voice of lead singer Alex Trimble, floating him on top of the drum and bass, set opposite the thick instrumental sections on cuts like “Something Good Can Work” and “What You Know.” On Gameshow, the vocals are pushed back in the mix, laden with effects and often dubbed with a synth or guitar playing the same line, strengthening the melody but de-emphasizing the lyrics.
This might be a good decision, since that’s where the album most noticeably falters. The lines are shorter, less memorable, and seem more jaded. “You should be comfortable, don’t think at all,” Trimble tells us on the opening track, and later again, on the title cut: “Why think, don’t think, why think, why?”
Perhaps this is the point, the sonic recreation of a decade that’s zeitgeist was one of existential emptiness, but the album remains too abstract to land on anything resembling a concrete statement. The title track wants to refer to the music industry, celebrity, the internet, the whole absurd endeavor of modern existence, all of it, a slick, immaterial thing that dissipates just beyond the album’s poetic grasp.
The resulting music is more physical, danceable, ripe for party playlists and live shows, but it lacks a depth that might sustain it beyond the next few touring seasons. Gameshow wagers on a sense of musical nostalgia and ends up doing little more than breaking even. It’s a summer album for the fall, a dream of future that’s already in the past, a neon beacon pulsing just behind the times.»
– Henry Whittier-Ferguson