At the start of Forcefield, Tokyo Police Club seems like a band aware that it has been four years since its last record. The album opens with “Argentina (Parts I, II, III)”, a huge eight-minute-plus blast of polished rock music. It’s not quite as movement based as its titular “parts” suggests, but therein lies its greatness. It’s a song that builds on hard-chugging power chords and propulsive drums and yearning vocals and it never lets up. “How many different kinds of people do you think there are for me?” singer David Monks wonders, and yet spends the record in search of what feels like one person, one place, one way to settle down if for a moment.
That the song remains restless and ever searching itself implies the frustration seething under Monks words, and it starts Forcefield off with both grandeur and tension. The stakes here are personal, and remain so over the course of the record. Musically, though, the stakes are a bit lower. Four years on, they don’t reinvent the wheel here but rather continue to polish it to a finer shine. These songs have an irrepressible gloss. They play like capital-P Professional rock songs. They are bright with hooks and worked to studio perfection. They are as immediate as pop songs get, and that seems to be the point: instant musical gratification.
And when that immediate sheen mixes with the tension of “Argentina”, the album works. The slashing guitars and moody spaces of “Gonna Be Ready” make it a shadowy standout. It’s lush and clear, but unafraid to feel alone in a way these other songs don’t. “Beaches” has a similarly effective feel to its scraped out verses, while “Tunnel Vision” charges forward full of blistering hooks clashing with airy keyboards. Even the dreamy layers of closer “Feel the Effect”, though they feel a bit too light, mesh with Monks’ vocals in interesting, evocative ways.
So the production here is not the issue, at least not when it is in service of solid pop songs. The problem on Forcefield is that, outside of the moments above, the songs often confuse simplicity with immediacy. There’s no bite to the shuffling, danceable guitars on “Hot Tonight”. “Miserable” has beds of guitars that feel thick but the hooks never assert themselves so it all ends up sounding like anonymous radio-friendly rock. “Beaches” comes undone in its choruses, which drift sleepily through smudges of keyboard and a bleary-eyed beat. “Toy Guns” should work with its chunked-up guitars, but it bails out on speedy verses in favor of a flat, hopping chorus in which Monks jumbles up some metaphor about not knowing the difference between toy guns and real ones.
The trouble in these moments is that without the tight songcraft that “Argentina” gives us, all we’ve got it the brightness of production, and its effect becomes glaring. It renders what could otherwise be a varied breadth of pop sounds into by-the-numbers pop monotony, losing both the tension and grandeur that start off the record. There are brief moments that break from this formula, like the distance acoustic guitar and piano that open “Through the Wire”, or the ear-in-a-shell hollow feeling at the start of “Beaches”. But these small successes serve to frustrate more than anything, as the songs bail on them quickly and retreat to the safe environs of lofty production value. And with nothing to the songs behind that production, it does end up as a kind of forcefield, one that keeps us at a distance from these songs, one that may let us have that immediate effect of a decent hook or a loudly sung chorus but that ultimately keeps those elements from resonating. If Forcefield is about hitting you in the moment, it does that. Sadly, much of it doesn’t last for the moment that comes next.