Let’s cut to the chase: Beggars, the seventh album from Thrice, is the textbook example of the term “creative milestone.” For all of their previous dalliances in everything from air-punching riffage to calculus-laden time signatures to ambient atmospheres (each avenue admittedly having its own fluctuating shelf life), the quartet have crafted 10 songs that are compelling and honest. For the purposes of this review, “honest” is defined as a result of personal chemistry, as opposed to the laying out of a contrived hodgepodge of influences laid out to illustrate some kind of self-absorbed musicianship or extreme cleverness. (These days, their 2000 debut, Identity Crisis, seems positively quaint.) Over the years, fans have learned exactly how fast the band can play, how loud their amps can go and how wickedly they can shred. With Beggars, listeners can witness four kindred spirits listening to each other, guided by a mutual respect and intuition that can only be developed through years of playing together.
Guitarist Teppei Teranishi manned the producer’s chair for the proceedings and the results sound remarkably intimate. It’s evident in the opening “All The World Is Mad,” where the rhythm section of Eddie and Riley Breckenridge sets up the pulsing urgency for Teranishi’s throttling guitar and Dustin Kensrue’s passionate invectives regarding humanity. You can hear it in the austere acoustic coda that ends the otherwise manic “Talking Through Glass.” It’s in the significantly dialed-down “Circles” that Teranishi’s electric piano takes center stage for a song that’s not as impenetrable as Radiohead’s pastoral quirks, but not syrupy like Coldplay’s Brian Eno-produced affectations.
But there’s a good share of rock on Beggars, as well. “The Weight” is a strident track that alternates between minimal accompaniment and all amps-on-11 mania, bolstered by a vocal performance by Kensrue that’s as commanding as such iconic alt-rock frontmen as Robert Smith, Bono and Chris Cornell. “Doublespeak” is laden with layers of feedback squalls and dynamic piano chords as Kensrue intones, “I drug my heart with doublespeak/All my misgivings disappear.” Continuing in a seemingly unbridled vein, the guitar flailing on “At The Last” completely flattens most grunge-era classics, and the heightened dynamics of the title track (Kensrue’s cautionary tale to the world’s privileged) are bold enough to earn the band some shoegazer reference points.
Despite their ambition, Thrice may never attain the cerebral/social status that high-and-mighty rockcrits widely accord to Radiohead. And they’ll most definitely alienate more of the folks who still want them to re-record The Illusion Of Safety in a number of transposed key changes. But who cares? Thrice have achieved that rare feat of actually progressing and maturing, while avoiding the navel-gazing introspection so many outfits fall into–you know, the one that rationalizes the creation of positively god-awful records. Beggars isn’t a new beginning as much as it is a moment in time worth returning to. Frequently.
GO DOWNLOAD: “Doublespeak”