The story of Tennis is, sadly, more interesting than their music. The pair of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley were college sweethearts, spent seven months at sea gathering material that would turn into their debut LP (Cape Dory), and have graduated to working with The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney as a producer on their new album, Young & Old. Where there might have been hope for some growth from the sun-drenched, lazy day take on 60s girl-group pop that characterized Cape Dory, we find that little has changed in the Tennis camp, resulting in an album that sounds like a honeymoon that never ended, where the bride and groom should probably return to real life.
Gone from Young & Old is the nautical theme that was prevalent in their previous release. Unfortunately, that aspect of their aesthetic, present in both their lyrics and the classic surf-pop influences that crept into their sound, was what made Tennis refreshing, or at least tolerable. Without this gimmick, the band nests in a nostalgic pop rut, with the songs becoming difficult to distinguish from each other. In fact, every tune on Young & Old resides in the three-minute realm, displaying a band that is keen on hammering home their singular trick and is short on ideas.
One would have hoped that employing Patrick Carney for production would have injected some of The Black Keys’ swagger into the release, but that is simply not the case. The drums are so far back in the mix that James Barone’s work plays like an afterthought, a major disappointment when you have one of music’s most distinguished drummers turning the knobs. Alaina Moore’s vocals are painfully muddled, dead set on nailing their desired aesthetic without regard for personality or doing justice to any lyrical nuances that might be present. As for the guitar work, Patrick Riley is always competent without impressing, punching in the clock and capably doing his job without creating anything memorable to take away from the affair.
From the opening lyrics of the record, Tennis tries to differentiate their records by picking a new mode of transportation. “Took a train to get to you,” Moore begins, placing herself dry and on land, far away from the sea of Cape Dory. But, like the train of the song, “It All Feels The Same” (yes, that is the name of the song, not a metaphor for Tennis’ career) telegraphs where it is going from miles away, making the inevitable “rock out” not only predictable, but also underwhelming because the band is incapable of a proper explosion. And while the band is middling musically, lyrically they are sometimes worse, as on the chorus of “Traveling,” which forces the repeated rhymes “this must be rare because nothing else could compare, not that I’m aware of.” Like cheap paint, Young & Old is best viewed from a distance, because any investigation chips away the product quite easily, forcing even the album’s strongest points (Moore’s synth leads and convincing vocals in “Origins,” and “My Better Self” – the album’s sole moment where intent and achievement meet) to be quickly forgotten. With a number of bands, like Cults or She & Him, playing a similar type of music and doing it much better, Tennis seemed to have squandered an opportunity to use their big-name producer and create an identity for themselves. The result is an album that is still adrift at sea, unaware of the musical landscape around them.