By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but there appears to be a gradual rock migration. A glacier-like shift toward harmony and melody. An opportunity for popular music to embrace art over gimmicks--musicianship over parent-hating rhetoric and latex masks from Spencer's Gifts. The success of the Strokes, Wilco and even Weezer demonstrates what's old can be made new again; that we can return to traditional rock values. Dublin, Ireland's the Thrills do so to magnificent extremes on their debut, So Much for the City. A sun-drenched pop masterpiece, the Thrills' twangy take on the Beach Boys has already won approval from Coldplay's Chris Martin and Noel Gallagher of Oasis, as well as Morrissey (for whom they recently opened at Royal Albert Hall--at the Moz's request).
So Much for the City begins with three instantly memorable tracks. "Santa Cruz" ambles out of the gate as singer Conor Deasy sleepily asks, "Well, tell me where it all went wrong." Before you can answer, the song's saloon piano and lazy backbeat are overwhelmed with horns, banjo and Hammond organ in an explosion of '60s grandeur. The vibe continues with "Big Sur," the album's first single, which includes the not-so-veiled reference, "Hey, hey, you're the Monkees and people said you monkeyed around/But nobody's listening now." Track three, the jaunty "Don't Steal Our Sun," stacks so many "oohs" and "ahhs" it sounds like a summer fireworks display.
Though there are a couple of duds--namely, "Deck Chairs and Cigarettes," featuring Deasy's strained falsetto, and the narcoleptic epic "Hollywood Kids"--more often than not the Thrills get it right: the overblown drama of "Old Friends, New Lovers," the handclaps and guitar flourishes of "One Horse Town." The songs that are perhaps the most fun echo fellow pop recyclers Beachwood Sparks and Teenage Fanclub. "Say It Ain't So" incorporates the Sparks' trademark pedal steel while "Your Love Is Like Las Vegas" matches the wit of the Fannies, including the sardonic lyric, "Don't you know, you're like Pete Best/Bitter after all these years/Just let it go."
If this all sounds a bit contrived, don't worry: The Thrills are legit. They're devout fans of the era they emulate and arrived at their sound rather organically. Way back in the summer of '99, without the benefit of a record deal, the Thrills spent four months on the cheap in Southern California. There, their pasty white skin soaked up the sun as they absorbed the beach culture, resulting in most of the songs heard on So Much for the City. The Thrills have succeeded in paying homage to their influences yet still carving a path of their own. Somewhere, Brian Wilson is clutching a jar of his own excrement, slowing nodding his head in approval.