Review: Thrice – Major/Minor

Thrice hold a particularly special place in my heart. Around the time The Artist in the Ambulance was released, I experienced something of an adolescent musical sea change, and that record was instrumental in steering me down the route I would take for the next few years. I ended my strict three year diet of ’90s grunge and, for better or worse, I devoured the loud guitars, raw-throated screaming, and general anguish (wait a minute…) of the burgeoning early noughties emo/post-hardcore scene. There were good bands, there were terrible bands, and there were Thrice. Whilst the majority of my favourite musical ensembles from that period have fallen by the wayside by dint of frankly poor recent output (Taking Back Sunday, Saves The Day, even the once-mighty Thursday…yeah, a lot of their names ended in ‘day’), Thrice have not only remained consistent in terms of quality, but they’ve struck determinedly out into the realms of invention and self-discovery. Vheissu completely ditched the metalcore influence present on its predecessors (which was immensely popular at the time, not to mention the fact that it became that way almost exactly around the time of release of Artist) for a moodier sound that practically eschewed hooks in favour of music boxes, Fender Rhodes and chain-gang chanting. Whilst The Alchemy Indexes were definitely patchy, even pretentious, it’s impossible to fault Thrice‘s sense of adventure, especially when they returned with an album as reigned in, focused and near-perfect as 2009’s Beggars.

So here we are, seven albums in, with the California quartet’s latest offering, Major/Minor. Early reports of the record’s sound piqued my interest for reasons that will by now be clear to you, with frontman Dustin Kensrue quoting in AP that the album ‘definitely has some elements of underground ‘90s grunge’. Whilst it’d be an outright lie to suggest that Thrice have quite adopted the filth and sleaze of, say, Mudhoney, Major/Minor certainly fits into the (correct or incorrect) grunge template of ‘band with loud guitars and heaps of earnestness’. Which could have described Thrice at any point, but yeah, the chords that open Blinded are a little like an out of context Dinosaur Jr., Cataracts bears a clear Soundgarden influence, and the thick leads on Treading Paper owe a debt to that well-documented Seattle sound.

Musically, Major/Minor is certainly consistent. There’s few of the dynamic shifts that populated Beggars, and instead the new record is characterised by, for the most part, relatively straightforward rock music. It’s all carried out with the band’s usual sonic excellence – they’ve spent a long time dialling in the perfect instrumental tones, to the point where I’m not sure there’s a better guitar sound in contemporary rock music than Teppei Teranishi‘s thick, tensile crunch, and the whole thing exudes the perfect balance of polish and grit. But here’s the kicker – Major/Minor, for all its energy, feels rather staid and unremarkable, much like the latter stages of the musical movement it’s taken influence from. There are a few distinct standouts – Call It In The Air in particular serves as a reminder of how Thrice can be brilliant, switching up deftly between beautiful and brutal, and closer Disarmed provides a welcome change of pace and a touching farewell. But really, Major/Minor seems to have revealed most of its secrets by the closing section of second track Promises – big, crashing chords, overlayed by bright, ringing arpeggios from Teranishi.

This would all practically be forgiveable, if it weren’t for the calibre of Major/Minor‘s lyrics. At times, they’re simply, vague, tautological and uninspiring – ‘if anything means anything, there must be something meant for us to be’ from the chorus of Treading Paper being an obvious example. But, perhaps inevitably, Dustin Kensrue seems to have finally strayed the wrong side of the didactic line. I have been listening to Thrice for eight years, and I’ve always been aware of, and perfectly comfortable with, Kensrue‘s moral leanings. Pitched right, as on The Weight from Beggars, his words depict a fierce and unwavering loyalty that’s often sadly (and at times, unforgivably) lacking in modern relationships. But on Promises, that song’s logical continuation, he reiterates the points he’s already made with so much fervour it becomes alienating. I’ll say it. I’m uncomfortable with evangelism, if not every facet of Christianity, and so by the time Kensrue roars ‘listen to me, though I speak of sober things’ on Listen Through Me, I can’t reconcile my own attitudes with Major/Minor any more. Perhaps it’s drastic, maybe this is just music, but that’s how I listen to records, especially records by Thrice.

Whether I’ve finally grown out of Thrice or whether Major/Minor really is a weaker release than its predecessors is difficult for me to say. The band’s seventh album is certainly a solid modern rock record. But using Thrice‘s past successes and daring as a watermark, it’s difficult to elevate Major/Minor above anything much better than unremarkable. In the presence of so much lyrical guilt-tripping, the whole experience can be plain uncomfortable.

5 responses to “Review: Thrice – Major/Minor”

  1. Mitchell says:

    I respectfully disagree with some of these points, especially lyrically. Reading the liner notes, Dustin digs deeper into philosophical concepts more than ever before. Your quote of Treading Paper is put into simple terms, it’s really (in my opinion) the deepest (in a philosophical sense) lyrics on the album. Addressing the macro-question, what does it mean to really “mean” something, as in truth and depth. It seems to me that the only reason your appreciation for the album has digressed is simply because you haven’t looked deeply enough to truly be able to appreciate the words that are being said. I can understand the “awkwardness” that you talk about when considering Dustin speaking of his faith, but that faith is much less obvious in the past two albums as Vheissu. Much of those lyrics were taken straight from scripture, easily a majority of the songs on the album was derived from that. As it is somewhat obvious (as in Speak Through Me,, as you suggested), it really is less prevalent than previous albums. In Major/Minor (likewise in Beggars), a lot of the lyrics are taken more from philosophical ideas (such as thoughts of Chesterton, Lewis, etc). Again, I think your lack of appreciation is truly due to a lack of knowledge on the background of the lyrics. Truly I think that if you really sit down with the liner notes (included in the vinyl package) and read the lyrics while listening to the album, you will have an entirely new appreciation.

    Thanks for your time if you read this.

    • Rob Hollamby says:

      I have no doubt that there’s a world of depth beneath the line ‘If anything means anything…’, how could there not be? It’s a massive sweeping statement that encompasses everything you’ve suggested and more, which is exactly my problem with it. It’s vague and uninteresting in its use of language, rather than lacking in meaning, which I never suggested in the review.

      Similarly, as I’ve said, I’ve never been uncomfortable with Dustin’s professed faith, or with Christianity in general – it’s evangelism, that is, preaching, telling others to listen to you, that I’m uncomfortable with, so whilst perhaps Vheissu contained religious imagery, it was certainly never as openly obvious as ‘Listen Through Me’. Your suggestion that my ‘lack of appreciation is truly due to a lack of knowledge on the background of the lyrics’ doesn’t really hold weight – I did (and always do) a bunch of research around reviews that I write, and one that I came across whilst writing this review was this, which is fairly comprehensive, on ‘Listen Through Me’ in particular.

  2. Introvert says:

    Although your review is well-crafted, I’m not going to comment on it in it’s entirety. I do have an opinion about the lyrics from ‘Treading Paper.’ The part when he sings “there must be something meant for us to be” is one of my favorite parts of the song. To me, the song is saying that we humans weren’t born to simply die. We were born with a purpose. No one else can tell you what that purpose is, but if you find that thing in life that you truly love doing, your purpose isn’t far away.

    And about ‘Promises.’ I have a rocky romantic past, so that song brings out some feelings of remorse and the acknowledgement that some of my choices weren’t so stellar. But I don’t believe the intent of the song is to instill feelings of guilt.

    I’ve been listening to Thrice since ‘Identity Crisis,’ and I love their music so I might be a little biased. ‘Major/Minor’ definitely has fewer moments where the listener is blown away by technical skill (the drums are pretty sweet on this album though). It seems to be more of a feel album. Listened to the album several times today on headphones and the whole thing is very emotionally evocative. Calling it unremarkable is kind of harsh. Those are just my thoughts.

    • Rob Hollamby says:

      As I’ve said above, it’s really not that I think that line in ‘Treading Paper’ is meaningless. It’s that it’s a dull use of language. With regards to ‘Promises’, give the article that I posted above a read. I’ve never cheated on anyone in my life, and never intend to. I abhor the very notion of it. But still, the song and Dustin’s evaluation of its lyrics are particularly hard-lined, they certainly made me feel a tad imperfect! Using the first person plural in ‘we are cowards and thieves’ certainly comes across as all-inclusive.

      I’ve never been one to be impressed by ‘technical skill’, and would probably rank most of my favourite albums as ‘feel’ albums – I hope you’d agree if I said that ‘Beggars’ was one of those albums, which I think it is. I found ‘Major/Minor’ particularly disappointing in light of Thrice’s back catalogue – it presents little variation on a formula, and fails to maintain my interest or an emotional response. I just think that Thrice can do, and have done, so much better. As you say yourself, ‘those are just my thoughts’, and so I don’t think that calling the record ‘unremarkable’ is particularly harsh – it wasn’t intended to offend, I have heard Thrice do much more interesting things, and besides, I don’t think that the band would ever read the review, and I’d like to think that they’d be humble enough human beings to live with criticism!

  3. Rob Hollamby says:

    Thankyou both for your comments, it’s great to have discussion sparked on a topic that I care about, not to mention a piece that I’ve written!

Leave a Reply