When your first album was written on a sailing trip and unexpectedly catapulted you into the indie spotlight, following it up in the same effortless manner must be a daunting task. Just the knowledge that there’s now a purpose to your songs, that they’re going to be judged by label execs, journalists and fans could cause any creativity to clot and congeal until any idea that does manage to ooze out sounds calculated and forced.
Husband and wife duo Tennis could have seen these imagined problems become reality but, apparently, songwriting for them is no nightmarish task. Within just three months of completing their tour in support of debut album Cape Dory, Young & Old was written up and ready to be recorded. Roping in drummer James Barone and friend, producer and Black Key Patrick Carney, the album arrives with a mission statement of maturity and variation but falls short of the aims its creators set out to fulfill.
Which is not to say it’s a bad record – it’s not, by a long shot. It just doesn’t feel like Tennis have moved on much since Cape Dory. Album opener ‘It All Feels The Same’ sets the tone for the rest of the record; gently bobbing along, dashes of 60s pop and soul gleaming through the mix of sounds. It’s pretty and charming but a step up from songs like ‘Marathon’? The answer has to be no.
Guitarist Patrick Riley describes the ‘new direction’ on Young & Old as “Stevie Nicks going through a Motown phase” but that course is only fleetingly explored here. ‘Petition’ and the stomping ‘High Road’ make a good start but to truly actualize Riley’s claims there needs to be a hell of a lot more sass – Alaina Moore’s vocals are just too restrained to embody either Nicks or Motown.
It’s a problem that characterizes the whole record – Moore sounds great but she’s too polite, too unobtrusive, happy to float along pleasantly when she could be driving her point home with just a bit more force. Tracks like ‘Take Me To Heaven’ and ‘Robin’ are tinged with sadness but when lines like “So far as I can see, there’s nothing left for me” are simpered sweetly, it gets frustrating. Part of growing up is learning when to show your emotions – if Tennis want to mature on record, they need to realise it’s okay to not be so controlled.
Flawed as Young & Old may be, there are some great moments. The skippy, bright waltz of ‘Dreaming’ is a lovesick gem that finds Moore “dreaming I can still believe in you.” ‘Never To Part’ is an enigmatic tale of innocence and purity, set around the gleaming poetry of lyrics like “do not furrow that perfect brow, chaste lips never to part til now.” It’s ‘Traveling’ that stands out as the record’s highlight though, with helter-skelter, fairground synths whirling around with dizzying excitement. If only there were more moments like it, perhaps this album would be as accomplished as Tennis would have you believe.
Release date: 12th February 2012