Wednesday, July 16, 2003

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If I had to come up with a one-word description of the new album by the Thorns, it would be "harmony". In fact, they say in the bonus video on the CD that this was the reason they decided to unite in the first place- Pete Droge, Chris Mullins and Matthew Sweet's voices blend beautifully and every song features plenty of group vocalizing. It's when I try to think of what the music they make reminds me of that I begin to falter somewhat.

I've been a huge fan of Sweet's for several years now, since his Girlfriend album over 13 years ago. I've got three of Droge's albums as well, and I like one or two songs on each and am totally indifferent to the others. Mullins I remember from his hit single "Lullabye", but despite purchasing the CD for my wife a year or two ago I've never been curious enough to listen to it. If I had to hazard a guess as to who the principal songwriter is, I'd say Droge, because like his solo albums this one kinda runs out of gas before it's over. But Droge's music never sounded like this- possibly Sweet brings some pop smarts to the mix. The overall sound of this album is melodic soft-rock, with a sound that reminds me somewhat of Bob Welch-era Fleetwood Mac in some places, dead ringers for CSN & Y others, and in a couple of instances late-Beach Boys and late-Beatles. Early 90s Tom Petty is also a definite influence. The title cut is the hardest-rocking thing here, with its insistent lock-stepped beat. They claim that it's not an attempt to write a "Hey Hey We're the Monkees"-type theme song...uh huh. The Pettyish opener, "Runaway Feeling", is nicely sung and arranged and quite catchy. The best song is the first single "I Can't Remember" which has a bittersweet sentiment, a gorgeous melody and in a perfect world would be a huge smash. There's also a nicely done but somewhat pointless cover of one of the Jayhawks' best tunes, "Blue", which I suppose is to prove that they can harmonize purty-er than Gary Louris, Mark Olson and Marc Perlman, because otherwise their version is identical to the original...and "No Blue Sky" features a string arrangement by one of my absolute favorite arrangers, Paul Buckmaster, which allows me to forgive the title swipe from Lloyd Cole. "Think It Over" and "Dragonfly" are the best CSNY songs in three decades. Even though this album has its definite strengths, the overall sound of the album becomes a bit samey after a while, and renders the last few songs forgettable. I have a feeling, though, that I'll come back to them eventually and wind up liking them too.

Even though the rustic cover photos suggest Band-ish country-rock, this is actually quite an accomplished pop-music album. For those (like me) who flat out groove on well-done harmonies, you could do worse than to give The Thorns a listen.