Among the pitfalls of modern pop music lie a litany of contradictions: popsters who shy away from commercial-sounding slickness; rockers whose love of spit and snarl deny them the right to a goosebump-inducing crescendo; Brian Wilson fans who understand the last part of "great pop experimenter" without the first two. The greatest songwriters of the genre -- from Wilson to Robert Pollard, Berry Gordy to Holland/Dozier/Holland to Bacharach/David -- have never held any such fears; have never succumbed to an experimentation but that which causes fans to buckle over with tearful eyes and lumpy throats.
Irish pop-rockers The Thrills began their career, on the fantastic debut So Much For the City, with a collection of songs whose goosebump potential was limited only by The Thrills' own set of influences: Wilson, Bacharach, Gram Parsons. If that collection was a startling debut that many critics and fans worried might be the beginning and end of the inspiration, then Let's Bottle Bohemia is more than a rebuff to those doubting Thomases poking their fingers in The Thrills' wounded hearts. It's the second coming of an Old Testament pop god -- the summer-sun and "high-on-hormones" songwriting equivalent of a plague of locusts; a universal flood of broken hearts and beachside sunsets. Because The Thrills have expanded that set of influences to contain everything great about pop music -- Wilson's oooh's and ahhh's and crescendos, Pollard's quirkily perfect lyricism, Parsons' West Coast cool, northern-soul strings and '80s pop-funk punch.
These tales must always start with the single -- it's all about the radio hit, the August car-roof-down, full-moon, late-night cruiser: "Whatever Happened to Corey Haim?" is a bona fide electric chunk of musical mind-Velcro -- nay, airplane glue. Parkway Records-style string-section jabs and lyrical nods to Paramount Pictures and Andy Warhol and "has-beens of the American dream ... I just can't stop it!" But it's just single No. 1 (and ought to be a No. 1 single, though it won't). "Faded Beauty Queens," with its wide-eyed adolescent memories ("making teenage boys feel / like a Christmas tree / ogling eyes, ogling eyes ...") and chilling Electric Light Orchestral chorus, or the nostalgic anthem "Found My Rosebud," the smooth '70s-soul and West Coast-vibe laden "The Irish Keep Gate Crashing" -- just about anything here could last a month stuck in your head. But in the end, it's the harsh XTC-worthy self-doubting pop of "Saturday Night" that seems the most all-encompassing in its cynicism and the most all-consuming in its utter greatness.
Because Let's Bottle Bohemia is more than just a great pop record. It's a great pop record about the fear and self-loathing and distrust and overconfidence, the entire list of contradictions and conflicts that come from being young and successful. (Or at least young and seen as successful by one's peers.) "You Can't Fool Friends With Limousines," "The Curse of Comfort," "Tell Me Something I Don't Know" -- this album is filled with the fear of becoming a faded beauty queen, of craving the recognition that previously had simply fallen into your lap. In other words, all the troubles that might've caused The Thrills' new album to fail have been used as the canvas and paint to create their masterpiece.