Given that it arrives almost a full 12 months after its US release, it's no surprise that the debut LP from Utah pop-rockers Neon Trees feels somewhat out of place in 2011's mainstream, where urban acts from both sides of the Atlantic dominate. Returns later this year from Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers will position radars back onto guitars and tattoos - which is fortunate, as it's unlikely that this album will do much to shift attentions away from innumerable Artist A featuring Artist B hits.
Initially plucked from obscurity by The Killers, who took the four-piece on tour with them in 2008, Neon Trees' fare is hard to fault in its box-ticking tidiness, but isn't the match of the world's biggest arena-fillers just yet. Platinum-selling single Animal, a top 40 success in the UK in January and a number one on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart, is a commercially-sound calling card, all bouncy keyboards and sing-along choruses, replete with mean-nothing "uh-oh"s that will sound amazing hollered by a few thousand festival-goers this summer. But it sets a template that the band never strays from. As such, across 10 tracks, Habits becomes something of a drag.
Neon Trees' problem is that they nail a sound so well that they leave themselves no room for manoeuvre. So many of these songs follow the same formula - slow starts, gentle builds, big middle sections, crackling climaxes, sudden fades - that they become indistinguishable from each other. Variations are slight, at best: Your Surrender bops along gleefully, but lyrics that smack of the maudlin rather counter its sunshine stride; In the Next Room adopts a saucy swagger but can't quite convince the listener to follow our protagonist through the door for the implied knee-trembler; and Sins of My Youth roars along with its brakes disconnected, but instead of ending in a fiery wreck it merely rolls to a half-hearted halt.
Everything's so very nearly there, but misses the target enough to leave the listener remembering shortcomings over anything else. Lyrically it's not the strongest record ever, positively pouring forth cliches, but that's fine in a pop context (and Tyler Glenn is a powerful lead vocalist). If Neon Trees convey a little more uniqueness in their second album, then we'll speculate about stardom. But right now they're play-off contenders in the League Two of shiny rock hopefuls.