Thunderbirds Are Now
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Our music critic Robert Christgau discussed a young band he likes with a young critic he knows and then decided to do a piece for us.
(SOUNDBITE OF THUNDERBIRDS ARE NOW!)
ROBERT CHRISTGAU: When I told my young friend that I was a fan of Thunderbirds Are Now!'s spiky new "Make History" album, he said, I like the last one. No one's talking about the new one. It's their third album, so it's like they're over, you know. My friend was being ironic. That's how 24-year-olds are. But as regards the online critical world, he was also being accurate. Alt-rock connoisseurs scale whole new heights of what have you done for me lately.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "SLEEPING IN THE LION'S MOUTH")
RYAN ALLEN: (Singing) They fell asleep on the lion's mouth. They never worried about getting out. They lived with birds up in the trees. And swam with sharks in the deepest seas. They built a home out of leaves and bark. They made a fire of a tiny spark. Became the kings of a brand new town. But they got bored so they burned it down. The things that people say, the way that people talk make me want to take the words right out of their mouths.
CHRISTGAU: Thunderbirds Are Now! is a trickier than usual band from the garage rock hotbed of Detroit. Thunderbirds Are Now! have their cult, but it's a measure of how obscure they are that their jagged, frantic songs are thought to continue the grand tradition of a band called Les Savy Fav, who you probably never heard of either.
I'll take Thunderbirds Are Now! for the simple reason that they've got the goods as a pop band, with special kudos to Ryan Allen's boyishly urgent vocals and his brother Scott Allen's shamelessly catchy keyboards.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "WHY WE WAR")
ALLEN: (Singing) This is why we war. Future crimes and ancient faults, a hidden agenda kept in unopened vaults. Brought to our attention with these smelling salts. We gave you a chance, now give us results.
CHRISTGAU: It's just as well that I heard the new one first. Because on "Justamoustache," which I think is fine, they get distracted by fancy stuff like multipartite song structures, the way kids who can bring off fancy stuff so often do. Maybe my perspective is skewed, and for sure the next hep thing crowd will think that by paring down, they've sold out. Though, really, sold out to what? MTV? Maybe YouTube.
Anyway, I say that for Thunderbirds Are Now! to play up melodic gifts most alt musicians don't have in the first place is the mark of aesthetic maturity. Once fancy stuff enters the mix, rock and roll requires execution, sometimes even refinement, as well as inspiration.
Formally, "Make History" is almost a pop record. It begins with some extended Beach Boys harmonies to make the point. But contentwise, it isn't. Romance is not on their menu. A minute and a half after the Beach Boys go away, Ryan Allen is railing about money, medicine and mortality.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PANTHERS IN CRIME")
ALLEN: (Singing) Nobody talk and nobody gets hurt. 'Cause money talks without saying a word. They say hey! Hey! What else can we kill? And where should we send the hospital bill? They say oh, no! There's no way we can die! But for all the money in the world, there are some things you just can't buy.
CHRISTGAU: Sometimes Allen is articulate, sometimes indistinct. Sometimes he's astute, sometimes confused. Sometimes, he seems angry, sometimes what can you do. Ironic. But he needs to address the bad stuff he sees around him. And the youthful intensity and instant memorability of the music he vents makes the venting seem important, whether you understand it or not. Not many online critics can make that claim.
NORRIS: The band is Thunderbirds Are Now!. The new CD is "Make History," and our critic is Robert Christgau.