Although this is their first CD release, Thrush Hermit have a solid reputation locally, and this disc has a lot to live up to. The Hermit mythology centres around the band's youth. A common age anecdote describes how some of the group weren't 19, so their parents had to sign permission slips to let them play in bars.
The implication is that they're to young to be good, but such stories froget about the group's experience. Three of the band's four members have been playing together since grade nine (four years ago), and they're all devoted to the band full time.
The eighth best thing about Smart Bomb is that it blows away the hype, providing concrete proof of what Thrush Hermit are about. The seven other best things are the songs on the EP. "French Inhale" is so listenable, it might make AM radio. -Kyle Shaw
When they've got a great song to tussle with, Thrush Hermit are hard to beat. Let someone put this CD on within earshot, and a week later you're wondering who planted that bleeding chorus in your brain -- the one that goes until I hear the lines connect.
This -- "Skip the Life" -- is a display window for TH's strongest gifts, with thrilling stop-start rhythms and classic can't-get-no-relief theme. It's made in heaven for co-producers Doug Easley and the band to mess with, bringing in, halfway on, a perfectly beveled trumpeting guitar line that returns for the ecstatic last-chorus repeats.
And what else is on the album (or do you stop now, after the three minutes 23 seconds it takes to become a slave to "Skip the Life")?
For a contrasting impression, there's a fine song called "Without You?" (punctuated to avoid stepping on Nilsson's toes?). Its first blued notes are sung over bass pattern and mild kit work, then embroidered with country/rock-guitar melody bits. The first guitar sound comes in on the first chorus, full electric only as that chorus closes. Yet "Without You?" makes its bitter point (siren guitar note on the words "tormented artist"!) in two minutes, brief as musical chairs in a box room.
The two guitarists are Thrush Hermit's alternating songwriters. The better songs are by Joel Plaskett, but Robert Benvie has a fine one in "Puerto Rico" -- a poignant, unusual song indicating that Benvie should develop his talent for writing in a personal vein (his duds, like "Snubbed" and "This Week," are generic). "Puerto Rico," subtly reflecting a family's thrown-away lives, commences with a plucked-guitar/drum riff, then goes on to hymn a humdrum pathos quite beautifully.
Plaskett's songs are routinely recorded at a pitch that strains his voice. There are other bands who choose this mode (the Verlaines come to mind), and maybe TH tried other registers before deciding this is punchiest. "At My Expense" may be a great song as it is -- or a pushed-into-overdrive version that they ought to rerecord. Thematically, it's reproaches all round in this striking piece of sore-ass rockin' with countrified guitar and a tumbling-over acceleration boosted at the end by a crunchy organ track. I still think Plaskett runs out of breath in the last go-round, leaving the guitars to march off mic alone.
Though they share their shapely, burnished, tightened-up folk-rock patterns with regional peers Sloan and the Super Friendz, Thrush Hermit seem happy to be both less brilliant and less tidy than those bands. Their readiness to overdo things (like the seven-plus-minute closer, a whiny/sultry mulling-over called "Came & Went") could add to their appeal. All the better if "Skip the Life" gets a bit of play, wreaks a bit of havoc in the assembled ears. K Spielmann
I already decided I was going to like this album before I opened it. I was disappointed and dismayed by Sloan's attempt at a 70s rock album this year, and I was determined not to be disappointed by this one. Unlike Sloan, I can let Thrush Hermit get away with this because they have always, and will always be the ultimate rock anthem band, while Sloan are a pop band trying to play their own songs like covers. Sure, maybe some will think this album went too far, reeking of Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, and Thin Lizzy, but somehow the Hermit still come out on top. As always, the lyrics are slick as can be, the riffs are cheesy but undeniably captivating. It's the kind of record that makes you want to rock out, big time. Tracks like Violent Dreams and The Day We Hit the Coast remind one of the Hermit's whack at a major-label album Sweet Homewrecker (Elektra), but head off into a new era in rock. Most of the material on the album is old, since the album was recorded in May 1998 at the Gas Station in Toronto, and the songs have long since become prominent on the Hermit set lists. But for those who have not had the ecstasy of participating in a recent Thrush Hermit audience, this stuff will rock your socks off. It does a much better job than Sweet Homewrecker of corralling the Thrush Hermit live spazz onto compact disc. Clayton Park is the Halifax suburb where the then babyfaced Hermits first started slapping out tunes, and it somehow seems a suitable title since this will be the last Hermit disc to feature drummer Cliff Gibb. Cliff has left the band, and has been replaced with the out-of-place, yet talented East-coast notable Benn Ross. Clayton Park was recorded with Dale Morningstar's laid back approach, so the album is allowed to go off on a bit more of a tangent than say The Great Pacific Ocean (Murderrecords, recorded by Steve Albini), or the saucy but slick angle taken on Sweet Homewrecker (by Doug Easley). But this tangent is well suited to the material on the album. Clayton Park has the flare and pizzazz offered by a release that takes advantage of the wonderful songwriting ability of Rob, Ian and Joel. Rob has written a wonderful ballad called Western Dreamz that offers some relief from the hyperactivity offered by the relentless riffs in the rest of the album. Indeed there are many good ballads, and a lot of longish but inventive songs. The album is dripping with hooks and wild riffs, and garnished with some superb ballads and rock anthems. You don't have to spend your days longing for a 70s rock comeback to appreciate the pure genius behind these songs, and the way they are presented. Thrush Hermit have outdone themselves once again. Clayton Park comes out on Sonic Unyon Records on February 9th. Copyright © 1999 Laura Bowman