Thursday, October 21, 2004

So Much for the City The Thrills

Release Date: 4 Nov., 2003
Review Written: 23 Feb., 2004
Rating: 6.5

I fucking hate crickets. There has been one jumping around my room all night and, due to the plethora of nooks and crannies in my living space, the little bastard keeps evading my attempts to snare him. It’s a lot like this band The Thrills – there is something I don’t like about them but I just can’t put my finger on it. Ok: so it’s nothing like that at all. In reality, I know exactly what it is I don’t like about The Thrills.

I grew up on a small island in the San Francisco Bay Area called Alameda. Alameda is in the East Bay, right next door to Oakland. When asked where they are from, a lot of Alameda's denizens simply say Oakland. Whether they do this out of shame – living in Alameda isn’t exactly a bragging right – or simplicity - saying “Oakland” was a lot easier than explaining what and where Alameda is, I’ll never know. But, I do know that there is something not entirely admirable about disrespecting your hometown. If you’re from Alameda then say it, if you’re from Sunrise don’t say you live in Sacramento, and if you’re from Ireland don’t play it off like you were born and bred in San Diego.

It is this last iniquity that The Thrills are guilty of. They grew up in Ireland, spent some time in San Diego, and then wrote a bunch of songs about how wonderful San Diego is. They even go as far as to call Dublin a one-horse town: “Well I never should have settled down, hanging around in a one-horse town.” The Thrills even emulate the California sound. The Beach Boys, The Eagles, Neil Young, and The Mamas and The Papas all come to mind. But it doesn’t feel like that’s where these young Dubliners came from.

The first track, “Santa Cruz (You’re Not That Far),” feels like a transition. It begins with Conor Deasy’s voice at it’s most Irish accompanied by a slow and pleasant piano, guitar, and drum trio. And then a mandolin breaks in as well. Someone pass me a pint of Guinness. Deasy sings, “Well tell me where it all went wrong, and tell me where you lost those damn songs.” And then: the Irish croonings fall away and a sun-bleached lilt takes it place singing, “Oh you gotta be still living by the sea cause, Santa Cruz, you’re not that far.” This isn’t bad. It’s not bad at all. It’s just not sincere either.

Musically, The Thrills are spot on. They can play their instruments really well and the songs are engaging. That is, aside from Conor Deasy who, according to the liner notes, wrote all the songs. His lyrics are asinine and banal to say the least and his voice is so mundane and without conviction that the songs are indistinguishable from each other. When playing this album as background music you feel empty. When it’s over: it seems as if you’ve only heard one song.

But there are some high points. The aforementioned “Santa Cruz” shows great promise. In fact, when I first heard it - without hearing the rest of the disc - I assumed this album would make my year-end top 10. “Big Sur” has a spot-on hummable chorus with a great California vibe and some falsetto oohs and aahs. “Don’t Steal Our Sun” is the highlight though. Great harmonies and musicianship and Deasy’s voice even comes out to play by punching out a great melody. It will be on every mix I make for the next year at least. But for every hit there are plenty of misses waiting in the wings. “Old Friends, New Lovers” labors like a wounded mule and “Hollywood Kids” waxes philosophic when Deasy sings, “Oh the death of a fast life, those Hollywood stars got to pay.” And the doomed-from-the-start “Your Love is Like Las Vegas” sounds an awful lot like a Tom Jones reject.

Apparently these guys were handpicked by Morrisey to open for him in the UK before they had a record deal. And I can understand that. They’re not terrible by any means. Some of the songs are catchy and they’re mostly enjoyable listening. Finally, though, The Thrills sound like a watered down version of California. Their sound isn’t unique and you can find it done much better on other avenues. The Beach Boys never attempted Irish Folk, and for good reason. The Thrills tried real hard to do the California thing, and they somewhat succeeded. It has all the components but none of the soul. Maybe if they lived here for a few years they might pick up what it’s really about – the damn crickets.


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