Young and Old is the perfect sophomore album. Tennis has followed its newlywed gem Cape Dory with an album that does everything exactly right. Young and Old expands the Denver duo’s sound without ignoring the formula that made Tennis so damned charming in the first place. Better yet, Young and Old is uniformly stronger than the band's admittedly one-note debut: broader in scope, these songs are even more alluring and strike with greater emotional impact. If anything, the album shows Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley are remarkably self-aware. They know their strengths, which they execute with savvy.
And that’s no small feat. Tennis could have been strangled by Cape Dory’s nifty nautical gimmick. Dry land has served the band just as well. After all, Tennis’ true terrain is wide-eyed devotion. Young and Old darkens things a little bit. On “High Road,” Moore claims “Paradise is all around, but happiness is never found.” I don’t buy it, though. Not when she sings of bad times with the ebullience of her girl-group heroes. Pain is the momentary side-effect of ecstasy, to be shooed aside without a second thought.
Producer Patrick Carney, of the Black Keys, attempts to scuff up Tennis’ sound. He successfully breaks Cape Dory’s hermetic seal. Riley’s guitar buzzes, when it doesn’t totally cede to keyboards and synths. Moore’s vocal is upfront and reverb-free. Young and Old breathes as if it were DIY rock in an uncluttered garage. But there’s only so much grit you can add to music this sparkling.
Yes, Young and Old is just a pop album dressed in cool, 60s-retro clothing. Given their bounce and syncopation, and the right house party, these songs could even be dance music (lead-single “Origins” and “Petition,” especially so). Sure, Alaina Moore still substitutes precise lyrical sentiments with non-verbal ooohs, whoa-ohs, and sha-na-nas. True, “Robin” is the third official Tennis song (of twenty) about a bird, though this one actually once landed on the couples' front lawn sometime last year. Laugh it up, if you must. I know, Tennis doesn’t have the talent or the ambition of an Arcade Fire. Who cares? The duo doesn’t make Important™ music as it is typically defined. Though I wonder why paeans to love and happiness should seem any less Important™ than Kleenexes and suicide notes.
The grumps of the indie world are free to dismiss Tennis as simplistic and bubblegum, and they may have a point. But there’s no shortage of artists willing and ready to cater to the sourest of demeanors. Me? I’ll take Tennis’ sunbursts of joy any day and without apology. It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive. Springsteen’s famous sentiment is Tennis’ unofficial mission statement. And Young and Old is the band's love letter to a supposedly dumb emotion. All you need is dumb? Thatreally does seem dumb.