Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review of Company of Thieves' "Better Together EP"

I posted this review just a few minutes ago on the Sputnik Music website:

Review Summary: Baby steps.

Chicago band Company of Thieves first came onto the national scene in 2009 with the excellent single "Oscar Wilde". It didn't make the Billboard charts, but it did get tons of airplay on American alternative rock stations such as the American satellite station Alt Nation. The single powered their debut album Ordinary Riches (which had received an independent release in 2007, but was re-released nationally on Wind-up Records in 2009) to the lower levels of the Billboard album chart, and to #5 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. Their follow-up album, 2011's Running from a Gamble, did even better, probably because the band was becoming more and more known. It contained no single as compelling as "Oscar Wilde", however, and although the album has grown on me over the years, I found it to be a step down from the band's debut LP. After that, Company of Thieves disappeared for a few years, finally announcing in 2014 that they had no plans to record new music.

Much to my surprise, though, the band came back together in late 2017, and now they have released their first new music in seven years. Not a lot, mind you, but some. The Better Together EP contains five songs in all -- three new studio tracks plus a couple of live acoustic re-recordings. Personally, I'm glad to have them back. Company of Thieves has never been a cookie-cutter unit -- they have their own unique style, and some real strengths as a band. Genevieve Schatz is a powerful and passionate vocalist, and the band's musical style is pretty sophisticated, mixing alternative rock with elements of jazz, folk and pop. Having said that, though, I have to admit that this EP leaves me underwhelmed.

The best track is probably the single, "Treasure". It's a plodding number that begins with a snippet of a fictional radio broadcast about "citizens exercising their constitutional right to assemble". I found it confusing at first, because it's obviously meant to be some kind of protest of Trump (the "fucking business man"), but it starts out as what seems to be a lost-love song, with Schatz singing "You're a treasure to me," but complaining, "Heaven has no rage like/When you took all the love, love". By the end, she's singing, "You're the villain for me". So I thought, maybe she used to love Trump on The Apprentice, but now that he's President, she hates him. Or maybe she's singing to a boyfriend she used to love, but now she can't understand it because he voted for Trump and then dumped her. Finally, I figured out that she's singing to America -- she used to consider it a "treasure" and a "pleasure", but now she hates the direction it's going in. I think that's it. Anyway, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. 

In any event, at first, I didn't hear much of anything in this song. It's slow and kind of draggy, and it suffers in comparison to "Oscar Wilde" -- there's certainly nothing here that makes you want to sing along like I used to do on the older song's chorus -- "We are all our own devil, we are all our own devvv-villl! And we make this world -- our helllll!" After repeated listens, though, I like "Treasure" somewhat. There's something vaguely catchy about it -- it kind of creeps into your spine if you let it -- and it does have a bit of a bite to it. It will make their Greatest Hits album someday, but as a lesser entry.

The other two new songs are called "Window" and "Younger". "Window" actually does appear to be a lost-love song. It seems to be about the regrets you have when a good relationship goes bad, and about trying to look back and understand exactly what happened. It's got a pretty good chorus, as Schatz bellows, "I want a window/I need a window/I want a window/I want to see it all through". "Younger" is another slow song, and another one that's either about an old dysfunctional relationship, or maybe about the country. It's kind of dirgey, though, and I don't like the way Schatz has to twist her voice on the first part of the verse. The album is rounded out by live acoustic versions of "Treasure", and, yes ... "Oscar Wilde".

Here's the bottom line. This definitely isn't Company of Thieves at the top of their game. But I look at it like this -- these guys were effectively broken up for about six years. As a band, they might as well have been in a coma. And while on TV and in the movies, coma victims wake up and immediately start running around (usually to get away from zombies), in real life, they have to ease back into things -- wake up their muscles, get a little physical therapy, etc. It might not have sounded like it in this review, but I'm really thrilled to have Company of Thieves back, and I'm looking forward to a new LP from them. As for this EP, while it's not their best work, you've got to cut them some slack. They just woke up from a coma, they'll work their way back into form. Baby steps.

Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars