The Thrills deliver a lively debut

New on CD

Music: in concert, CDs

November 06, 2003|By Robert Hilburn | Robert Hilburn,LOS ANGELES TIMES

One of the hardest things in pop music is coming up with uplifting songs that are poignant, not just cheerful - and this Dublin quintet's ability to do it so consistently makes this one of the most enchanting rock debuts in years.

Like Ryan Adams, the Thrills weave their influences into the music so freely and proudly that their first album, So Much for the City, invites you to draft a list of them as you listen. The Thrills' primary touchstones range from the wistful introspection of Neil Young to the heartfelt, country-flavored rock tones of Gram Parsons.

But the band, whose arrangements also recall the sweet charm of the Beach Boys and the jug-band bounce of the Lovin' Spoonful, mixes the influences so imaginatively that this CD carries its own musical stamp.

Where many albums alternate between optimistic and melancholy moments, few mix those qualities so frequently and hauntingly in the same song.

"Well, tell me where it all went wrong," Conor Deasy sings softly, with just a faint touch of instrumental support at the start of the opening track, "Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far)." The music then brightens with a rollicking, percussion- and piano-driven beat along with a seductive sing-along chorus that defies you to feel blue.

As the album unfolds, the alternating hope and despair move from personal relationships to wider issues of values and lifestyle. The band is even so playful in places that it sneaks a sly banjo into the arrangements and salutes the disarming pop vitality of the Monkees. Yet the Thrills can be stark and sobering, as in "Hollywood Kids," a look beneath the seductiveness of Southern California glamour in the tradition of the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Sin City" and the Eagles' "Hotel California."

The album came out in the States just this week, but it has been available for months in England, where much has been made of the numerous California references in the songs. The band spent four months in California before recording the album, and it uses the locale to reflect - with fresh eyes and hearts - on the themes of optimism and disillusionment.

By the final number, many illusions have been shed, but not all hope. Against a swirling, churchlike organ backdrop, Deasy declares, defiantly, "We'll dance till the tide creeps in."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing Co. newspaper.

The Thrills

So Much for the City (Virgin) ****

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