The notion of a good concept album seems to have died around the time that people stopped using poetry as currency. When a good concept album comes along, it’s really something to celebrate. Look no further than The Thermals’ ‘The Body The Blood The Machine’. Not only did it have a great concept (the story of two lovers escaping a religious fundamentalist government), the songs were brilliant – not to mention thought-provoking, gleefully juvenile and amusing. The songs on ‘Now We Can See’ are mostly pretty good, but unlike its predecessor, the concept is woolly. Apparently told from the perspectives of wise-cracking dead people, the lyrical ideas are somewhat samey; the music on the other hand is pretty good (in most places). It feels like this record won’t last long in the memory, however. There are, of course, exceptions: while I don’t like to use the word “catchy” (catchiness is no indicator of quality), ‘Now We Can See’s title track is absurdly catchy (as well as genuinely good). The stomping ‘When We Were Alive’ would have made The Stooges proud, whereas the meaningless pop/rock of ‘I Called Out Your Name’ is a major low-point.
While there may be genuinely great moments, ‘Now We Can See’ sounds rushed and self-conscious (as well as boring in places). The concept quickly becomes dull and you just wish the dead people narrating would just stay dead. Plus, what really becomes jarring is how the band themselves sound as bored as my readers; a step-down from the impassioned skepticism of ‘The Body The Blood The Machine’. Having said this, they’re still more interesting than 95% of the bands out there.
Listen to this: with beer and company
Key track: Now We Can See