It’s not too difficult to figure out what Thieves Like Us are trying to do. Their goals are simple and their methodology is nothing revolutionary. Their second album, Again and Again, is made up of meat and potatoes electronic pop compositions, half eerily cold and spare, half pulsating and dancehall-ready. The band has described this album as being concerned with painful, time-worn topics like love lost and general melancholia. These are the ingredients that comprise many well-regarded electronic albums, but Again and Again is, at best, touched upon by decent ideas driven into the ground and, at worst, lifeless songs that never get off the ground.
The biggest problem is easy to identify: the vocal performances. Given the purported subject matter, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect a little emotion from the singer’s voice, even if it is pitched into a gauzy world of synthesizers. Yet every song, from the bold, scantily arranged “Mercy” to the club-ready “One Night With You”, is dragging a dead horse in singer Andy Grier. I don’t mean to pick on the guy, as I’m sure he’s equally integral to the successful parts of Thieves Like Us, but Grier’s default mode is dispassionate, and his ability to even carry a tune is questionable. The chorus melody to the otherwise interesting, fluttery “Shyness” is almost painful, and the lyrics (“Shyness, let it go, never have to be alone, yeah, shyness, shyness”) are not doing the song any favors.
In fact, the lyrics are frequently laughable, suggesting an understanding of English that hinges on the notion that anything that rhymes is related. I suppose there are times when “silence will save you from violence”, but that’s still a goofy chorus (that one comes from “Silence”, which also contains the line, “you must come from a memory, cause you’re such a fantastic vision”). “Mercy” is chock full of these sorts of wha? moments. Actually, it may be worth printing the entire first verse just to get the point across:
Found you, found you/ Atmosphere, it lays around you
Side (?) you, hide you/ Take a look now how I’m living
Pay me, pay me/ Hold me down with all your glory
Friendship, give a shit/ Take a look now how I’m living
I’ve said it before; I’m not looking for David Berman or Leonard Cohen all the time, and the bar is way lower when it comes to electronic music. But come on; those lines up there are borderline nonsense. I haven’t even mentioned yet how the word “lover” appears in groups of four at two separate points during each chorus of “Lover Lover” (I realize that description is a bit difficult to comprehend, but you’d understand it better if you heard the song), nor have I mentioned the line about how “a dream comes to thought.” Yes, this band is comprised of two Swedes and an American expat, so the language gap might cause a few of these problems, but no one is forcing these guys to sing in English. If it’s funny in The Room, it’s funny on Again and Again.
Perhaps I’ve picked on Grier a bit too much. Sure, “Mercy” could have been a real spooky standout were it not sunk by him, but there are a lot of moments on Again and Again that either squander their potential or simply had no potential at all, irrespective of Grier. Opener “Never Known Love” is repetitively based around one basic chord progression, and continually tacking on new synthesizers isn’t enough of a distraction to change that fact. “The Walk,” with its intermittent slap bass and lazy cowbell usage, is dance music for the barely energized. The chorus gives the track a minor boost, but it’s not enough to save it. “One Night With You”… well, that one’s on Grier again. That might have been a pretty killer track if not for him, but that’s the story of Again and Again: a negative to match every positive.