Thieves Like Us by Thieves Like Us – Album Review
by Matt Callard
Amazing what a solid cult following can do for longevity these days. Thieves Like Us are into their second decade as a band despite the sort of mass critical indifference that has seen many a decent outfit go the way of the dodo in less than half that time.
And while this reviewer can’t claim an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Swedish-American band’s five album back catalogue, whenever aural contact has been made, there’s always been intrigue, always value, always something arty but accessible. There’s been shimmering dance pop, throbbing electroclash, the occasional headlong rush for the dancefloor. But the one constant is a maverick pop sensibility that, really, should have catapulted the band out of cultsville by now.
But here we are with the eponymous fifth album, decked out in the kind of artrock sleeve destined to put off any young, impressionable newcomers (it’s a re-enactment of Hans Conrad Schumann’s iconic jump from communist German Democratic Republic to freedom; by a black woman wearing the same pilot suit that singer Andy Grier’s father wore in Vietnam, pop pickers).
Opener ‘Dani’ makes use of live bass as the band ditch their sometimes lumbering synth-rhythms for a dash of old-fashioned funkiness. ‘Tears’ digs up an old REM melody, tags on some sweet sixties backing vocals and comes as close to perfect pop as the band has ever done.
‘Child Star’ is from the same gorgeous, blue-green planet as Air’s sublime ‘Kelly Watch the Stars’, while echoic single ‘Broken Mirror’ sounds like it’s building layers towards a euphoric finale, but takes on an odd, downbeat change of pace halfway through that’s not much except the proverbial spanner in the works.
Standout track, ‘Israel’ starts with a 21st-Century ska riff and maintains a twisting, turning dance-focused glide throughout a glorious three-and-a-half minutes.
There are still head scratching moments, though. Slowie ‘The Moon’ aims for sky-scraping but never gets above knee height. ‘Shake the Light’ is something Madonna would have rejected around ‘Ray of Light’ time and closer ‘Jennifer’ is inappropriately twee and badly in need of a big fat hook.
Damning with faint praise won’t affect Thieves Like Us. The band have ploughed a successful enough furrow away from the vagaries of critical acclaim. But until that all-killer, no-filler greatest hits album comes along, I guess I’ll stay an admirer from afar, coming in to contact wherever and whenever, but without the desire to truly seek them out and discover the finer details.