Album review

Two Door Cinema Club’s third album will ensure more anonymous success

Gameshow was four years in the making but indie trio’s popularity is undimmed by an extended hiatus

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 October, 2016, 1:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 October, 2016, 1:00pm

Two Door Cinema Club’s second album, Beacon, was a record that, to borrow the famous assessment of David Frost, rose without trace. It reached No 2 in the UK charts and sold 100,000 copies.

Previously an inconspicuous, poppy, synth-heavy, putatively alternative rock band whose reviews seemed to deal almost exclusively in faint praise (“ A less po-faced Foals ”), the trio from County Down, Northern Ireland, were transformed into an inconspicuous, poppy, synth-heavy, putatively alternative rock band operating at a level of popularity where arenas are filled with ease and so long can be taken to make a follow-up that it starts being referred to as a comeback.

Four years separate Beacon from its successor, Gameshow, and during this time Two Door Cinema Club’s personnel apparently did the kind of things that members of successful rock groups feel the need to do, including “giving themselves space to discover their individual identities outside of the band”, exploring eastern religions, staging photographic exhibitions, “battling their various demons”, and alas, on the evidence of Gameshow’s opening track Are We Ready? (Wreck), writing songs that castigate consumerist culture and admonish their audience for their materialism.

It’s hard to overcome the feeling that this kind of finger-wagging is fine if you’re living off homegrown vegetables in your anarcho-syndicalist commune, but perhaps a bit much if your music has been used to advertise everything from mobile phone services to department stores. Still, there’s something fascinating about the way Two Door Cinema Club have become a band in a position to offer lofty pronouncements while remaining weirdly anonymous.

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In 2016, their popularity is seemingly undimmed by their extended hiatus: anyone who thought they might have been deposed in the affections of those who insatiably hunger for poppy, synth-heavy, putatively alternative music by their vaulting former support act Bastille (more poppy and synth-heavy still, eight million albums sold and counting), should note that their forthcoming UK tour completely sold out in a morning and a second date has had to be added.

And yet, you suspect most people would still struggle to identify a member of the band. Whatever other pressures the trio may have had to deal with during their sabbatical, at least they can’t complain that their right to privacy and a normal life has been snatched from them by their recognisability.

You might think this represents an ideal version of fame – all of the benefits, none of the intrusion – but apparently not, at least according to Gameshow. It’s an album that, when not bemoaning materialism and the rise of social media (“Don’t need to know what everybody’s thinking,” offers Bad Decision), makes very heavy weather indeed of Two Door Cinema Club’s success. “I’m made of Plasticine, I’m a Pinocchio,” protests frontman Alex Trimble on the title track, before complaining about the attentions of rapacious fans: “Sing to me, you’re so pretty.”

Yet Gameshow sets these complaints to music seemingly designed to make them more successful still. The band have talked down Beacon as “safe”, and occasionally you get the sense they are straining towards something with a little more classic-rock heft than usual. If you squint hard, you can just about make out the influence of Heroes-era Bowie in the squally guitars of Invincible, while Fever comes with a portentous, Pink Floyd-style intro.

But generally, Gameshow seems, if anything, even less risky than the music they made before. Its main currency is glossy pop-funk with a twist of 1980s AOR sieved through latterday production techniques: a bit of filtered house here, an EDMish synth noise there. They’re often really good at it: closer Je Viens de La offers up an impressively wiry, dizzily euphoric groove that could pass for an 80s boogie track; Lavender has got a great chorus; the ballad Invincible is fantastic, equal parts McCartneyesque melody and John Hughes film soundtrack. But glossy pop-funk with a twist of 80s AOR has been one of modern pop’s dominant styles since Daft Punk exhumed it from the hinterlands of unfashionability on Discovery, 15 years ago.

There’s just a lot of this kind of thing about, which is a problem in the album’s least inspired moments. There’s doubtless someone out there who could tell a track such as Ordinary apart from the stuff that makes up the numbers on BBC Radio 1’s daytime playlist, but frankly they belong not in the audience of a Two Door Cinema Club gig but on television showing off their freakish ability to differentiate apparently identical music.

Then again, this kind of thing is all over Radio 1 because it’s popular. If the sense of people fearlessly heading down a path that’s already been comprehensively tramped is hard to assuage, there seems no reason Gameshow should do anything to arrest Two Door Cinema Club’s strangely anonymous rise to the top. What that means for a band apparently shaken and embittered by the kind of celebrity-free success they’ve already found is anyone’s guess.