Depending on the listener, Walk the Moon’s freewheeling tunes about lust, cars and self-reproach could be achingly relatable or irritatingly melodramatic. In its self-titled debut in 2012, the poppy quartet situated itself at the crossroads between New Wave icons and contemporary young-adult rock stars. The goofy, tongue-in-cheek lyrics illustrated a confidence that was juvenile and twee to a fault, but they are forgiven by irresistible melodies that framed them as hopelessly romantic.
Sadly and unsurprisingly, the band’s newest album, “Talking is Hard,” seems trapped by the immaturity of its younger audience that propelled it into the spotlight. The songs are shorter than those on its first album, and more anchored in basic four-chord song formats. The cleaner, more pop-focused production acts like a whip for every other aspect of the album. With a larger audience to appease, the song structures become more simplistic and the lyrics less mature.
The attempt at widespread appeal is no clearer than in “Different Colors,” the band’s turn at an
LGBTQ anthem, in which they declare “We’ll be rude, we’ll be loud/As long as it takes.” When not directly addressing listeners with superficial “victory marches,” as the band calls them, Walk the Moon returns to its bread-and-butter. The band continues to place its romances on a pedestal, but crosses over into clichés of dancing and destined love much more often.
The biggest trouble the record faces is lifting from its idols while still sounding authentic. The stuttered vocals on “Sidekick,” the thorny synthesizer that holds together “Portugal” and vocoder harmonies and drum-machine patterns do little to reimagine the colors in which the album paints. “Work This Body’s” pounded electric piano, choir-like background and precise guitar solo means to be a Queen-sized epic but comes off as silly, complete with a nonsensical lyric about burning a flame in the pouring rain. On “Up 2 U,” singer Nicholas Petricca’s out-of-tune glissando morphs into an out-of-place punky wail.
Many elements are in the name of experimentation, but most are half-baked ideas.
There are moments where retro worship and modern execution come together in perfect balance, finding the group in its most original form. “Avalanche” is the closest the band gets to harkening back to its debut sound while having the nuanced production work in the song’s favor. Incidents in the instrumentation playfully complement the lyrics, which is an example of Walk the Moon’s penchant for capturing the feeling of childlike infatuation as a world-shaking disruption. Another exception to the rule is “Come Under the Covers,” a soaring moment with panoramic synths.
Walk the Moon’s second record shows development stylistically, but its presentation is largely a shallow imitation of the trendiest music of today and of the ’80s. “Talking is Hard” is the sound of a band that is, like the youth of its demographic, torn between being popular and fleshing out a unique voice, with no idea how to reconcile the two. For Walk the Moon’s new album, talking does not seem to be as hard as making an enduring statement.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 4 print edition. Email Zane Warman at [email protected]