Sophomore albums can prove career land mines for even the most promising young artists; as the saying goes, you’ve got a lifetime to compile your first album, and then about a year to figure out what to do next. The Thrills’ striking 2003 debut, So Much For The City, came with an equally striking backstory. After forming in their native Dublin while in secondary school (our “high school”) in the late ’90s, they found their collective muse while soaking up the sun-drenched vibes of California over two inspirational summer stopovers in ’99 and 2000, and by the time they returned to the U.S. to record City in L.A. a few years later, The Thrills were already channeling the ’60s/’70s Golden State-grounded pop/country-rock sounds they’d so clearly idealized. Given the critical acclaim surrounding that release (and count this critic among those who raved), one awaited the second Thrills offering with equal parts anticipation, wariness and—in these days of all-too-ephemeral pop pleasures—finger-crossing.
Fortunately, Let’s Bottle Bohemia is a triumph, as much for what it’s not as for what it is. On one hand, it will certainly confirm that The Thrills are not revivalists (something they’ve maintained all along)—at least not the sort for which they’ve been mistaken. As noted above, The Thrills’ debut invoked the spirit of American pop and country rock past, but it really was more kindred than concrete, reflecting an acquired aspiration to create music built around a whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of its-parts group dynamic. That philosophy also guides this new work—just listen to the opening of “Our Wasted Lives,” wherein every member of the band makes his own distinct entrance before lead vocalist Conor Deasy sings a single note—and, to The Thrills’ credit, this vision remains central to what they’re about. But this is a far more difficult album to pin down stylistically, as it ambitiously leaps from driving rockers (“Tell Me Something I Don’t Know,” “Found My Rosebud”) to haunting ballads (“Not For All the Love In The World”), and from jaunty pop (“Faded Beauty Queens”) to faux-Motown soul (“Whatever Happened to Corey Haim?”).
While Deasy’s invitingly affected vocals (“New York Cit-ay,” rhyming with “committ-ay”) and intriguingly impressionistic lyrics (“Pipe dreams fade / And all the underdogs got laid / Left your heart in the hands of a juggling clown”) certainly command attention, it remains keyboardist Kevin Horan who anchors The Thrills’ music. From the clavinet on “Corey Haim” and the electric piano on “Faded Beauty Queens” to the swirling organ of “Found My Rosebud,” Horan informs virtually every song with well-nuanced, thoughtful touches. “It’s not like I got time on my side,” Deasy sings breathlessly on “Our Wasted Lives,” as if there’s not an instant to spare. It’s that intensity and seriousness of purpose that continues to define The Thrills’ electrifying music.