In an age where an armada of faceless, interchangeable, me-too retro garage rock acts dominate the contemporary music scene, The Thrills are an anomaly, an Irish pop outfit who hearken back to the likes of The Beach Boys as opposed to Nuggets artists. Eschewing sloppy distorted riffage in favor of genial pop melodies, The Thrills are truly an anachronism, filling a role that had remained conspicuously vacant amidst the waves of Strokes and Hives and Libertines.
The Thrills' music tends to be marked by a certain counterfeit innocence and earnestness, easily seen through given moments like the band's jab at The Monkees, the very apotheosis of the starry-eyed pop naiveté that the youths from Ireland consistently feign.
The Thrills operate in a nostalgic, retro arena, albeit with some modern flourishes (like the synths that open Big Sur) to prevent the album's sound from becoming too dated. As alluded to before they owe a lot to the Beach Boys, but the Thrills' influences extend to many other key players in the world of late sixties/early seventies pop; even so there's only a modicum of diversity on the album, with a heavy emphasis placed, predictably enough, on simple, straightforward pop songs.
As far as the caliber of So Much For The City goes, the Thrills do indeed betray a certain degree of pop acumen, penning some memorable melodies and decidedly old-fashioned but still effective hooks. Consistency is an issue, however, as most of the best tracks seem concentrated toward the beginning of the album, an imbalance that will invariably leave a bad taste in the listener's mouth.
Seemingly determined to ward off all potential thoughts of their Irish lineage, the band sprinkle references to various avenues of Americana, as is evident from reading the song titles alone (from Santa Cruz to Big Sur to Hollywood Kids). Few if any remnants of their heritage remain, as if the band felt that their past would be a liability, and the result is a parade of Beach Boys-esque lyrics.
The album opens with Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far), a decent pop number and a suitable opener, if far from a classic. What follow are the album's best two tracks, namely Big Sur and Don't Steal Our Sun, both of which feel as if the band devoted considerably more intelligence and creativity to arranging them than most of the other pop anthems that compose the track listing.
Unfortunately the album begins to falter at this point. One Horse Town was a curious choice for the album's first single, as it's rather simple and repetitive without a sufficiently strong melody to compensate for those defects. It's far from bad, as in reality there are no qualitatively offensive songs on the album, but it defies the code of intelligent single selection, namely that it actually represents the true quality of the album as opposed to painting it as a better album than it is.
Many of the tracks, while moderately entertaining, just aren't terribly memorable or creative. Hollywood Kids is interesting if only for its attempts to be darker, and tracks like Your Love Is Like Las Vegas are somewhat catchy, but the album falls into a rut after the first three tracks that it simply can't seem to extricate itself from.
Thus So Much For The City demonstrates that the band have a measure of talent as songwriters and performers, and the group could potentially improve in the future, but as it stands the album is somewhat underwhelming; So Much For The City can certainly be enjoyed, but without more diversity and more consistently strong melodies it simply never becomes that compelling an experience. It's still a pretty good album, but not the incredibly auspicious debut the band were clearly trying for, meaning that that the group's future as pop artists remains wholly undecided, as the album offers little indication of whether high quality or mediocrity awaits them in the future.
While a somewhat underwhelming product, So Much For The City at least exhibited a modicum of promise, a layer of latent, untapped potential that could perhaps lead to a brighter future for The Thrills. It wasn't, however, an auspicious enough outing to guarantee any kind of meaningful growth for the band, and it was clear that without a measure of artistic progression the group would never rise beyond the level of mere adequacy.
Ergo the direction of The Thrills was vague and ambiguous, with no transparent indication of the band's ultimate worth afforded on their debut. Thus thanks to this innate unpredictability their sophomore effort was bound to be subjected to intense scrutiny, dissected for evidence of The Thrills' overarching merit as a rock outfit.
Unfortunately Let's Bottle Bohemia doesn't bode well for the future of the young Irish quintet; it's far from bad, but it fails to address any of the problems demonstrated on the debut in any meaningful way, instead offering a product that's distressingly reminiscent of the band's first outing.
Worse still, not only have the band failed to correct their early mistakes, but they've added new flaws that simply exacerbate the entire situation. The album is overproduced, with a sterile, slick studio treatment that can be rather grating and off-putting; while that was also true of the debut to a certain extent, the production on So Much For The City feels natural and organic when compared to overarching artificiality of their sophomore effort.
The caliber of the lyrics has also deteriorated to a certain degree; while never the band's strong suit, they had at least remained inoffensive on the debut. Now, however, rather than continually recycling dated California imagery The Thrills actually attempt to be clever, resulting in songs like The Irish Keep Gate-Crashing with its cringe-inducing attempts at edgy coruscations.
The band's old lyrics had worked to an extent because they often resembled the disarmingly innocent ruminations of old Beach Boys verses. When The Thrills attempt to go beyond their mimicry of old sixties pop naiveté, however, they expose their own weaknesses, as if the group is incapable of producing anything of worth when they attempt to stand on their own, out of reach of their guiding influences.
This may seem a bit harsh, but even after two albums The Thrills have yet to establish a true identity for themselves beyond their sixties emulations. Meanwhile their retro nostalgic charm is on the verge of atrophying, as the band can't simply continue to regurgitate the work of their betters without bringing something new or unique to the table. It's a bad sign when a group is on the brink of stagnation after a mere two releases, but this is the predicament The Thrills now find themselves in.
Worst of all the caliber of the songwriting has taken a hit as well. Once again none of the songs are offensive, and many are even imbued with a certain charm courtesy of their mock innocence (which, while losing its potency, still has at least a bit of life left in it). Nevertheless the album is even more erratic than their debut, with many songs that are simply blandly pleasant.
Fortunately there are a handful of solid tracks to be found, which at least elevate the album to the level of 'decent.' The band rock harder on Let's Bottle Bohemia than they had in the past, and this gives tracks like the opener Tell Me Something I Don't Know an added edge that helps make the song all the more compelling. Boasting a primitive but effective riff and a strong melody, the track's a definite highlight, and its heaviness helps differentiate the song from the band's prior fare (though the same trick is gratuitously over-exploited throughout the CD, and thus begins to wear thin by the end of the album).
The album's solitary hit, Whatever Happened To Corey Haim? is decent as well, while Not For All The Love In The World valiantly struggles to be anthemic, for which it deserves at least some credit. Our Wasted Lives is better, however, with more solid riffs and vocal hooks that distinguish the number from its blander brethren.
Thus Let's Bottle Bohemia is a solid, competent outing from a group that simply lacks the talent to rise to the next level of rock music. The band ultimately sabotage themselves with their ill-defined identity, as they can't decide if they want to be a Beach Boys clone, a sixties knockoff or a unique entity unto themselves. This indecision mars their work, as no side of the band is sufficiently fleshed out to make for a truly captivating listen.
Even so the album provides its audience with enough reasons to keep on listening even if they're never bowled over by the experience, as Let's Bottle Bohemia exhibits just enough intelligence and craftsmanship to make for a brief diversion. The Thrills are also helped by the fact that there's little real competition for the band in the distinct niche they occupy on the current rock scene; The Thrills are not a sixties garage rock tribute band, and thus even if they're not unique in the grand scheme of things they're certainly unique for the moment. This makes The Thrills far more interesting than they would have been several decades ago, and fortunately they have just enough talent to pull the gimmick off.
By their third album it became painfully apparent that The Thrills needed to grow as a rock outfit; there's nothing inherently wrong with simply churning out a parade of stylistically similar pop excursions, but Deasy and company were never on the level of bubblegum pop songwriter extraordinaires like AC Newman or the duo of Collingwood and Schlesinger who were gifted enough to produce rehashes with impunity. The Thrills could conjure some decent pop melodies, but by and large when collected en mass their efforts were decidedly underwhelming, lacking the stunning hooks that their betters could generate on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, Teenager finds the young Irishmen retaining their musical style, flaws and all; stylistically static, the music on Teenager portrays little in the way of maturity or progression. If the band could consistently produce great melodies in their signature style then their stubborn refusal to grow could be easily overlooked, but once again Teenager suffers from a paucity of memorable, catchy tunes.
Worse still is that the band finally attempted grow in some regards, but precisely the wrong ones. Teenager depicts The Thrills attempting to hone their lyrical craft despite never having betrayed even a modicum of aptitude for pop poetry. Suddenly Deasy fancies himself a man with something to say, resulting in painfully amateurish attempts at psychological insight and introspective philosophizing. Deasy's forays into the world of meaningful lyrics are uniformly cringe inducing, culminating in the disastrous stupidity of the title track; sadly The Thrills' lyrics were more worldly and intelligent when they were spewing vacuous Californian clichés and imitating Brian Wilson's brand of innocent drivel.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the music is frequently structured to accommodate the lyrics, often resulting in clumsy, awkward melodies that reflect Deasy's nauseating, infelicitous verse.
The melodies aren't always twisted to match the band's lyrical inanities, but even when the tunes are strong it's difficult to appreciate them while retching at the dreadful lyrics that are invariably at the forefront of the songs (and intentionally so, at that).
Perhaps being the recipient of Morrissey's praise implanted the notion that he was a strong lyricist into Deasy's head, but regardless of the catalyst the fact of the matter is that the band's lyrics have gone from inconsequential to maddeningly idiotic, creating a new liability rather than addressing their old ones. The band needed to focus on melodies, where they at least possess a fair amount of talent, rather than emphasizing an area where time and again they've failed to excel, or even exhibit a modicum of potential at that. While it's commendable that Deasy is trying to take his work in new directions he failed to understand the steps that The Thrills needed to take to become a viable commodity, ignoring his flaws while creating plenty of new ones.
When one can look beyond the lyrics, however, one will find that there are still a handful of solid numbers. The opener The Midnight Choir represents the zenith of the band's efforts on the album; the lyrics are grating, but the melody is one of the best in the band's canon, featuring deft piano-centered arrangements and a genial melody that may be at odds with the lyrics, but by this point the listener should be ignoring the lyrics altogether anyway.
Like So Much For The City the best material is concentrated at the beginning of the album. Thus after the strong opener Midnight Choir the band sustains at least some creative momentum with the decent if unspectacular pair of This Year and Nothing Changes Around Here. The album begins to lose its way at this point, however, dispelling any good will it could have cultivated in the listener.
Thus Teenager is a major misstep from a band that can't afford to have a misstep at this stage in their careers. The band's discography has been a series of disappointments, as The Thrills never once merited all of the accolades that they had received at the beginning of their career. It had appeared that The Thrills had the potential to become the stellar pop outfit that critics and fans alike had projected as the band's future, but in reality all the band had done was come up with a fresh sound that they could never truly capitalize on, lacking the merit and artistic direction to warrant the effusive prognostications that misrepresented a fundamentally limited group of performers.