An album where its strengths are largely also its weaknesses
The Temper Trap have largely dipped back under the radar since they essentially came out of nowhere with ‘Sweet Disposition’ back in 2008 – a euphoric, otherworldly summer anthem that became the catch-all soundtrack to festival adverts, football highlight reels and back garden barbeques the world over for a solid few years after its release. But that was, unbelievably, almost a decade ago – where does the time go?
Since then, their 2012 self-titled second effort limped out of the gates to little fanfare or critical attention, and now they’re back once more – sans guitarist and founding member Lorenzo Silitto – with ‘Thick as Thieves’, a record touted as a return to the guitar-based sound of their debut after the electronica-tinged detour of their previous outing.
The album’s title track and opening number ‘Thick as Thieves’, for instance, is an uncharacteristically bluesy stomp with low-slung bass and a distorted vocal, which erupts into a chest-beating, muscular chorus all about making noise and shouting – it’s as if they’ve taken the critics’ comments to heart and feel they have something to prove, that they are indeed a rock band with a capital ‘R’. It’s a breath of fresh air after the drabness of their last release, but you can’t help but feel there’s ultimately just not much substance beneath the calculated bluster.
Having got that out of their system early on, though, the rest of their third album is very much business as usual, with second track ‘So Much Sky’ (and most tracks, in fact) coming complete with “oh-ay-oh” backing vocals and huge-sounding drums, guitars and – well, actually just about everything on this record sounds huge.
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Elsewhere, you can easily imagine the catchy, single-worthy ‘Burn’ would absolutely slay as a show opener, and the affecting ‘Lost’ showcases Dougy Mandagi’s stately falsetto; as an unabashedly Temper Trap-by-numbers affair, it plays like almost like a love letter to the band’s fanbase. The two standouts here, though, are ‘Alive’, which trundles along on a bassline reminiscent of The Cure’s ‘Fascination Street’, and the set’s clear winner ‘Riverina’ – a sunny rocker filled with driving-with-the-top-down optimism, which if there’s any justice in the world will be all over the radio this summer like ‘Sweet Disposition’ before it.
That said, ‘Thick as Thieves’ does have its flaws, chief among them that it’s an awkwardly front loaded set, which grinds to a halt during its second half thanks to ‘Tombstone’ (an unremarkable ballad) and ‘What If I’m Wrong?’ (another unremarkable ballad). The deluxe edition fares slightly better, and manages to get a little more life breathed into the back end by way the Coldplay sound-alike ‘Providence’ – and, yes, it’s a given The Temper Trap do tend to sound like Coldplay as a general rule, but this one LITERALLY could have been salvaged from the cutting room floor after the sessions for ‘X&Y’, with its washes of icy synths, jagged guitar lines and big reverb-drenched drums. It’s almost like Mandagi’s put ‘Speed of Sound’ under a microscope and reverse engineered a big stadium showstopper from its dissected parts.
‘Thick as Thieves’ is, overall, a welcome return to the Temper Trap Sound™ – but it’s a shame that main strength is also its main weakness as, as we all know, lightning doesn’t strike twice, and after a listen through it’s all too evident that everything here has already been done, by the same band, better and more memorably on ‘Conditions’.
This Temper Trap article was written by Dan Whiteley, a GIGsoup contributor