Neon Trees are more pop than psychology

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Neon Trees appears appears in Madison at Wisconsin’s Majestic Theatre on June 24, then hits the Summerfest stage in Milwaukee on June 26.. Lead singer Tyler Glenn recently came out as gay. -PHOTO: Ryan Russell

On their just released new album Pop Psychology, Utah’s Neon Trees explore angst in relationships from a number of points of view, ranging from teenage lust to friends. Rarely has it all sounded so catchy and fun.

While “Living In Another World” seems to be the only song to directly address lead vocalist Tyler Glenn’s recent coming out, it sounds like he’s spent some time self-reflecting since the band’s last album Picture Show. However, with nearly all the songs set to up-tempo 1980s-influenced pop, Pop Psychology is an easy, pleasing listening experience.

The album’s title carries multiple meanings. It reflects the fact that many of the songs dive into personal angst that makes the pop music here more “psychological” than Neon Trees’ past work. However, the candy-coated ’80s pop approach keeps thing zipping along in a fashion that never dwells too long on deep concepts.

“I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends)” is a good example. The band seems ready to dive into something a bit deeper with the words, “I thought you had a thing for fancy boys.” But ultimately the song seems more concerned with a catchy sound that could have been ripped from the Talking Heads’ Little Creatures era.

A number of Neon Trees fans have speculated in the past about Glenn’s sexual orientation. But until this year, he consistently denied the rumors, pointing to a two-year relationship with a girlfriend that nearly resulted in marriage. Their breakup is the subject of the band’s song “Our War” on   the first album Habits.

There were some raised eyebrows over the lyric, “I’m sick of always operating out of fear. I’m sick of being called a fag because I’m queer,” from the song “Teenage Sounds” on the group’s most recent album Picture Show. Glenn explained the line by saying he was being “bratty” and reflecting on having been called a “fag” since age 11 because of dressing differently and listening to different music. He told a radio station that he could only imagine how frightening it would be to actually be gay.

But finally Glenn addresses the issue head on with the song “Living in Another World,” saying, “I guess I’ve always been this way. It’s been hard for me to say.”

As a practicing Mormon, Glenn probably had a harder-than-usual time with his coming-out process. He has acknowledged “terrible” things said by church leaders in the past.

But in an interview with the Associated Press, he commented that he’s been surprised at how accepting church leaders have been. They continue to state that homosexuality is a sin, but a number of out gay Mormons have reported recently that they are being welcomed back to the church while remaining in their same-gender relationships. 

Love and texting

Pop Psychology puts one foot in the contemporary world when it examines relationships from a technological point of view. “Love in the 21st Century,” which kicks off the album, details the hazards of love in a social media world. It’s followed by “Text Me in the Morning” which ultimately concludes, “When all the other boys just want your sex, I just want your texts in the morning.” With the retro ’80s atmosphere of the music, the songs cleverly point out that despite the advance of technology, romantic relationships are just as much of a minefield as they have been in the past.

Neon Trees first came to widespread attention in 2008 after being asked to accompany The Killers as an opening act on the latter’s concert tour.  The single “Animal” was released in 2009 and began a long, slow climb up the charts, ultimately hitting No. 1 on alternative radio stations and reaching No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100.  Neon Trees’ debut album Habits was a moderate success.

In late 2011, the band released “Everybody Talks,” the first single from the group’s sophomore album Picture Show. That single also began a very slow march up the charts, ultimately reaching No. 6 on the Hot 100.

Pop Psychology closes with the anthemic “First Things First.” Anchored by the line, “You are never gonna get everything you want in this world, first things first, get what you deserve,” the song tells the band’s story.  It begins with Glenn leaving Utah to head to southern California with guitarist Chris Allen. “First Things First” breaks down for a poignant moment with the words, “It began when I learned how to face myself, and I’m still deciding if I’m something else.”

But the music quickly perks back up and, in keeping with the album title, it returns to the friendly sing-along energy that is a Neon Trees trademark.

Do not turn to this album for impressive depth, but if you listen closely to Glenn’s lyrical musing, you might catch multiple moments of self-realization that will resonate with your own life experiences. 

In May, Neon Trees begin a North American tour in support of Pop Psychology. The group appears in Madison at Wisconsin’s Majestic Theatre on June 24, then hits the Summerfest stage in Milwaukee on June 26.