Before the ink even dried on Tokyo Police Club’s Saddle Creek contract in 2007, you had to know the band members were going to set their shop up firmly in the self-reflective emo territory of their sound. While the resulting LP, Elephant Shell, may have not garnished the reams of praise that greeted the band’s debut EP, Lesson in Crime — but then again, not many albums could — it was still a little solid record. The transition to Gossip Girl-ready bookish introspection might not have been the most-wanted one, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any band in Tokyo Police Club’s arena that would have the balls to name one of their songs “Tessellate” and to turn the phrase “broken hearts tessellate tonight” into a rallying cry. Skittery garage-new-wave-punk this is no longer, but this is as about as good as pop punk can get.
The young band — they’re all still in their early 20s — more or less double down on the more mature, less raucous sound on their sophomore album, Champ, but replace the songs about dating with songs about growing old. There isn’t a band around of kids this young that are so concerned about the passing of youth; songs about missing out on life (the winsome ballad “Breakneck Speed”), dying (the Bruce Springsteen-on-Pixy-Stix sway of “End of a Spark”), realizing that relationships have changed to something different (the hooting “Wait Up”) and leaving home (the synth-laden “Gone”) glisten with the overabundance of off-kilter hooks that made Tokyo Police Club blog stars a half-decade ago. It’s an interesting new look: The members of Tokyo Police Club broke through with songs worrying about the imminent destruction of the world, and now they fret that they’ve been missed out on the bulk of their lives.
The band’s increased introspection is probably due to them taking close to two years to write Champ, the same length of time they took to record an album and two EPs initially, and to some extent, their fear of losing some years is an actual reality. Whether or not the band is “better” for going this route musically was up for debate last time out (the answer was generally no last time, and is lyrically yes here). For better or for worse, the question of whether or not Tokyo Police Club finally delivered on their initial hype is going to envelop every new album from the band from here to 2012, but expecting them to annually replicate the din of their debut EP is unrealistic. Champ might have its fair share of weak spots (basically the back third), yet it’s another proficient album from one of the more (still) promising young bands around.