Bono Can Bend Someone’s Ear: The Thrills’ Let’s Bottle Bohemia, HP, 2004.

Reviewing the Thrills’ second album in HP was awkward because I didn’t like it and one of the band lived on the road I grew up on in Ballinteer. The Thrills were known as a Blackrock band but in a prior live review I’d mentioned Ballinteer because it felt important to do that. I didn’t know Kevin the keyboard player as I was never a terribly sociable neighbour. But I had met and congratulated him in Whelan’s circa So Much for The City. By the time of Bohemia I had already critiqued The Thrills in that live review (headlined, not by me, Grand Theft Audio) saying they should not locate all their songs in America, they should “mythologise Blackrock and Ballinteer”. It’s just: Albuquerque isn’t inherently special. It’s only because The Prefabs, Neil Young, and Bugs Bunny mention it that it is. So make Broadford special. Hence I was a little surprised to be handed this for review. It appeared in print as a debate with a HP colleague. I had not been told when handed the CD that I was debating the merits of the album with me as “Prosecution” and a colleague as “Defence”. It was the only time in my decades in HP that this ever happened. But hey I was never at editorial meetings. My colleague gave it 9/10. I gave it 4/10. Pitchfork gave it 6.0! I guess we evened it all out.

According to Conor Deasy, the inspiration for ‘What Ever Happened to Corey Haim’, the lead single from Let’s Bottle Bohemia, is this: “We live in a time when popular culture has reached an all time low. It’s a culture of good fortune and gloating, where really vacant people with nothing to say are idolised.”

Conor, a pop idol, also thinks this: “A hooker with a heart of gold / A cheap date that can’t be sold / Won’t send you to an early grave / Oh-oh-oh-oh”. (‘You Can’t Fool Old Friends With Limousines’). Nothing vacant there, and not the slightest double standard.

Pop isn’t all about having something to say, but when you ask the question of others, you have to answer it yourself, and there is no redeeming Conor Deasy’s bad poetry. It’s a mess of non sequiturs, clichés from cancelled cop shows and trite evocations of a non-existent way of American life—“So let’s split tonight/I got a tank full of gas to light” (‘Not For All The Love In The World’). With added Awrights.

Of course, saying something isn’t just done with words. It’s done with your noise and your individuality and the freedom that they express. The Thrills will never lack a melody, and ‘Tell Me Something I Don’t Know’, ‘Saturday Night’ and ‘Found My Rosebud’ leap out.

But you can’t express freedom when you’re not free; when you’re in thrall to a fictional America—cue Conor’s wispy midwestern croak, by now beyond parody—and to the past. Peter Buck plays almost inaudible mandolin on ‘Faded Beauty Queens’ and Van Dyke Parks’ genius with strings is wasted on ‘The Irish Keep Gate-crashing’, a hoedown, purely so The Thrills can feel validated by history.

What’s missing from The Thrills is trust that their internal lives, unobscured by secondhand imagery and legs up from heroes for hire, will be enough to sustain us. Of course it will! Internal lives are amazing, intriguing things. Ulysses is just a Dub talking to himself for the day. We are all endlessly mysterious and complex from the moment of birth. Sing about that.

A key line: “The curse of comfort has plagued your artistic life” (‘The Curse Of Comfort’). Maybe Conor Deasy thinks he hasn’t suffered enough. Bono, who said he would carry The Thrills’ luggage, worked with Van Dyke Parks once, on ‘All I Want Is You’, on an album also too heavily in debt to history. His band nearly disintegrated and had to head to Hansa to bring back the best music of U2’s life. Maybe Bono could bend someone’s ear: five broken hearts and five flights to Berlin, please. Then we might be on to something.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: