July 15, 2003

The Thorns "The Thorns"

I am intrigued by The Thorns. Is this a band that is greater than the sum of its parts? Some might say "yes," and it's easy to understand their point of view. Matthew Sweet, Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins are all intelligent songwriters; if you're under twenty-five, it would be easy for you to say "who?" to any of the two and if you're over twenty-five, you might say "ewww!" to any of them, too. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Mullins, but he suffered the one-hit wonder syndrome with one of his worst songs, "Lullaby." That one shot at fame undid several years of hard work in exchange for radio-play and a quick cluttering of the "Mu" section of most used record stores. It's too bad, too, as said song was not reflective of his songwriting, and it's a shame he was never given the chance to show off his talent. Pete Droge had a minor hit in the mid-nineties with "If You Don't Love Me (I'll Kill Myself)," and has been dutifully obscure ever since, and Mr. Sweet is well-known even if he's not well-known. Still, these three men come together nicely in a supergroup form, and it sounds excellent.

If you get the feeling that The Thorns sounds exactly like a collaboration between Matthew Sweet, Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge, you'd be more than correct. It's quite obvious from the first notes of "Runaway Feeling" that The Thorns is going to be nothing more than the mellow trip trhough the history of Southern California folk-rock, most notably, Crosby, Stills & Nash. Throw in a little hint of the Eagles, a drop of Fleetwood Mac and just a hint of Jayhawks, and you've got the basic recipe for this record, the record you remember--you swear--you've heard before. Deja-vu? Please, let's keep the irony out of here. (Curiously enough, The Thorns bears more than a passing resemblence to Velvet Crush's Free Expression, which was a Matthew Sweet production--so this sound is nothing new for Sweet.)

But, really, The Thorns isn't anything more than that. Normally such a singular devotion to exactly one sound would be a major flaw. When the harmonies are this rich, this deep, this beautiful--I cannot complain. I accept The Thorns for what it is--a jam session between three guys who know a thing or two about writing a good song--and in so doing, I'm happy. Heck, they only falter once, on the not-as-funny-as-you think, guys theme song, "Thorns." It's the only clunker among thirteen songs. A dozen harmony-soaked melodic folk-rock numbers? I think I can live with that. Their cover of The Jayhawks' "Blue" is dead-on, "Think It Over" is a wonderful song that borrows many an idea from "Our House," and "I Set The World on Fire" is just breathtaking. Heck, they've joked about being "a male Dixie Chicks," but, at the end of the day, they are in fact nothing more than a male Dixie Chicks.

The Thorns has got all the harmonies you want, and though you only think your life has plenty of melody in it, just a few minutes of your time with Messers Sweet, Droge and Mullins will provide you with your minimum daily requirements. After all, they are a band that is clearly greater than the sum of their one-hit blunders. Though it may seem as if The Thorns is ultimately devoid of anything resembling depth, what the songs lack in distinctive characteristics they more than make up in melody. Too bad that most bands and artists can only dream of being this wonderfully monotonous.

--Joseph Kyle

No comments: