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Epyonomous
Artist: The Thorns 
Label Aware/Colombia
Released May 20, 2003

Please don't call them a “supergroup.” While it’s true that all the members of The Thorns - Pete Droge, Matthew Sweet and Sean Mullins - are solo artists in their own right, each enjoying moderate success throughout the nineties, none of them have exactly cut wide swaths of neon across the pop culture sky. At this point in their careers The Thorns have more in common with Crosby, Stills and Nash circa 1969 than they do with genuine supergroups like Little Village or The Traveling Wilburys. Like CSN (hold the Y), The Thorns craft smart yet unpretentious folk-rock with tuneful hooks and ear-tickling harmonies. Their eponymous debut also recalls the gauziest 70’s California Rock, “Peaceful Easy Feeling”-era Eagles or just about anything Loggins and Messina ever recorded. This is a group with nothing to prove and nothing to lose, and they've made a record that’s as casual as a summer sunset. 

From the shameless hook-mongering of the first two tracks to their reworking of The Jayhawks’ melancholy and masterful “Blue” into a sugary power-pop confection, it’s obvious that what we have here is a Labrador puppy, nay, a Sally Field of an album. It just wants you to like it, to really really like it. But The Thorns never promise more than they deliver, and that guileless, heart-on-the-sleeve earnestness makes the record work. 

Edie Brickell once sang “Choke me in the shallow water before I get too deep.” The Thorns seem to have taken that perspective to heart. They have no axes to grind, no existential dilemmas to work out. They’re just here to wallow in the simple pleasures of a well-turned lyric against an obvious but irresistible melody. The opening tune, the effervescent “Runaway Feeling,” states their raison d'être clearly: “You know that rock and roll feelin’ really makes you feel high.”

Such perky gladhanding could become bothersome if the collective songcraft wielded by The Thorns didn’t produce songs with such charm and good intentions. Lines like “Time heals almost everything/and the world outside doesn’t need to let you in/lay your own stepping stones” from “Think it Over,” - perhaps the best country rock tune Glen Frey never wrote  start on the surface and sit there, with such willful naivete that it’s almost shocking. But Thorns, as they say in the hard rocking title track  yes, there’s a song called “Thorns”  aren’t interested in complications or the darker side of the human condition. “Thorns just keep walking away from it all/I don’t have a plan/For calling you back at all/Thorns keep walking away from it all.”

Fittingly, the production is polished to the point of absurdity, like 75 layers of varnish on a perfectly good piece of woodwork. But it’s all part of The Thorns’ plan. This is a record to give in to, like the last piece of cake in an empty kitchen. No one’s looking, and no one cares anyway, so just dive in. In a post-grunge and post No-Depression world, The Thorns don’t want to be an alternative anything. They just want you to like them. So like them already.

Dave Sims 7/20/2003 

Any parallels between The Thorns and classic close-harmony country-rock bands you care to name are merited, and that’s a good thing.  Think Crosby, Stills & Nash, or the Eagles as an early 70’s Los Angeles club act, with the Beach Boys’ vocalists guesting.  That Matthew ("Girlfriend") Sweet, Pete Droge, and Shawn ("Lullabye") Mullins ambled out of their respective careers into this is astonishing; it’s the best thing any of them have done, and that’s no putdown.  The vocal blend among these three traditionally solo vocalists is pure magic, and the songs are top-notch acoustic pop for summertime. 

"No Blue Sky" soars heavenward, sweeping upon its lush string accompaniment.  Imagine CSN giving their best shot interpreting Fleetwood Mac’s "The Chain," and you’ll find "Dragonfly."  Droge’s rocker "I Set the World on Fire" fuses Travelling Wilburys jangle with Pete Townshend power chords.  The band turns in a stirring cover of The Jayhawks’ "Blue."  Here’s hoping this crafty time-warp isn’t a one-off.

Jeff Elbel 10/14/2003

Aware Records is rapidly becoming one of my favorite large label subsidiaries.  A division of Columbia Records, its emphasis seems to be on the talent of the performer, rather than being driven by numbers.  And if one of its artists (see: John Mayer) happens to hit it big, then more power to them.

The Thorns are comprised of Pete Droge, Matthew Sweet, and Shawn Mullins, all of whom have enjoyed relative levels of success in their own careers.  They combine to employ a Traveling Wilburys approach to a CD that ultimately owes a lot more to CSNY than the Wilburys.  That said, "Runaway Feeling" could be the long-lost Tom Petty tune you've never heard.

"I Can't Remember" features incredible harmonies.  "Blue" is a Jayhawks cover.  The artists here have decided intelligently to let each of their signature sounds shine through at different times, while blending their voices on other tracks to form a unique sound not heard on any of their solo works.

"Think It Over" and "Among the Living" make best use of the harmonies, while "No Blue Sky," co-written with Glen Phillips, may be the best song.  "Dragonfly" is most like Mullins's solo work than any other track.  The title cut "Thorns" makes impressive use of a Doors-style keyboard track.

The Thorns is a satisfying collaboration between three fine performers.  It is yet to be seen whether this is a one off, a project to be returned to from time to time a la The Lost Dogs, or the next venture for Sweet, Droge, and Mullins.  My only complaint with this disc is that it fails to use Sweet's vocals nearly enough--a gift that should be used at every opportunity.
 

Brian A. Smith 10/19/2003


 

   
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