Album Review: The Temper Trap – Thick as Thieves

By on Thursday, 16th June 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

The Temper Trap Thick as Thieves album coverIt’s been quite some time since we’ve heard from Aussies The Temper Trap. It’s been so long that frankly, after the way their second album ‘The Temper Trap’ was pretty much panned across the board for lack of a vision, I wasn’t really sure if they had it in them to continue. The band were hit out at for being uninspired, including on ‘London’s Burning’, painfully revisiting the London Riots that were on their doorstep during the time they lived in the Capital. Four years since that release and another incredible 7 years after their well-received debut LP, they’ve attempted to return to their earlier ‘Conditions’. The question is, will anyone be listening?

The name ‘Thick as Thieves’ is a reference to the band’s soldiering on as a four-piece following the amicable depature of lead guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto and the strong, brotherly bond that has grown between them since. Joseph Greer, who came aboard as a touring member around the time of ‘Conditions’, has grown into the lead guitarist position since Sillitto’s departure but is also still on keyboards. Structurally, the biggest change on this album compared to past efforts was their willingness to work with other outside songwriters.

An idea previously shunned by the band, it gives the LP somewhat of a patchwork feel, with so many (and possible too many) cooks in the kitchen. Early single ‘Fall Together’ is the result of a collaboration with frequent Lana Del Rey cowriter Justin Parker. Its bouncy, buzzy synths are innocuous, but the overall it’s a mainstream, feel good anthem led by frontman Dougy Mandagi’s massive vocals, recalling the best populist moments from their debut. Both the title track and ‘Lost’ are cut from a similar cloth, with even its lyrical content similar: all three explore the importance of unbreakable relationships.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oop2g5p1lIs[/youtube]

Speaking of, one will begin to notice a weird phenomenon after listening to the album all the way through more than once. There isn’t much variation to the topics being broached on ‘Thick as Thieves’. ‘Burn’, whose title might suggest the passion of a romance heating up, is less about anything salacious and more about taking a chance in a general sense. It begins on a nice, winsome note, building towards an upbeat tempo, perfect for ‘Sweet Disposition’-esque festival pogoing, if you were wondering. ‘Alive’ includes the trite lyrics of “it feels so good to be alive!”, which are not unlike those from ‘Burn’ (“you’ve got burn just to feel alive”). I realise that Carrie and I spend much more time looking at song lyrics than the average journo. However, anyone not a pedant like us would notice and be put off by what comes across as lazy songwriting.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Hbr-I_FWDQ[/youtube]

‘Alive’ is followed by ‘Riverina’ and ‘Summer’s Almost Gone’. While neither is spectacular, the fact that they’re structurally different makes them of interest. The former has a very catchy melody and sees The Temper Trap on the anthem motorway once again. Hats off to Pascal Gabriel, famed for writing some of Dido and Kylie Minogue’s biggest hits, so it’s not a surprise this is one of the album’s standouts. Close your eyes, and the guitars of ‘Summer’s Almost Gone’ are lifted from ‘Science of Fear’, just slowed down. If you have spent any significant time with ‘Conditions’ like I have (I taught myself bass with it), you will get a sense of deja vu from time to time listening to ‘Thick as Thieves’. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your point of view: do you want something that’s comfortable, or something that’s beguiling in its newness?

Years ago, I had the pleasure of having a relaxed conversation with Mandagi outside the House of Blues in Boston in October 2010, hours before their headline show there. He asked me point-blank what I thought of their debut album, wanting my opinion of it. By that time, I’d seen them perform a few times but was still pretty much a rookie at covering live shows, let alone interacting with rock stars. I bit the bullet, somewhat painfully disclosing to him that I far preferred their live set to them on record, figuring he’d never read my review of it on TGTF. 

Instead of reacting badly, he appreciated my honesty, grinning and agreeing with me. He said that when the band were in the studio, he felt like they were holding themselves back, whereas live, they would leave everything behind onstage and give it their all. There’s certainly nothing objectionable here on ‘Thick at Thieves’, but like its 2012 predecessor, there is a weird lack of inventiveness and sheer excitement throughout, leaving the listener wanting so much more. However, having experienced them many times live, including their headline slot at the TGTF stage at Liverpool Sound City 2012, I will wait to cast further judgment until after I’ve seen them play this album live this autumn.

6/10

‘Thick as Thieves’, The Temper Trap’s third album, is out now on Infectious Records in the UK and Glassnote Records in America. For more coverage on TGTF on the Aussie band, follow this link.

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