Is it too soon to get an echo boom of ‘90s alternative rock? Or are we devouring culture so quickly these days that aping music released less than a decade ago is already a hip, retro move? Either way, UK foursome IV Thieves (that’s “Four Thieves”, not “Intravenous Thieves”)—singer/guitarist Nic Armstrong, drummer Jonny Aitken, bassist Shane Lawlor, and guitarist Glynn Wedgewood—sound straight outta 1996, playing tight, rockin’ Britpop on their sophomore disc, If We Can’t Escape My Pretty (there really should be a comma in there somewhere, no?). In an alternative rock scene littered with post-post-punkers and new-new wavers, the IV Thieves earn points for being different, but it amounts to little more than being a different retread.
Oasis casts the biggest shadow over IV Thieves. Noel Gallagher gets blurbed in the press sheet accompanying the album, and IV Thieves have opened concert dates for Oasis in the past. As such, tunes like “Higher” and “Catastrophe” feel like nothing so much as old Oasis b-sides: plenty of big guitars and swagger, but b-sides for a reason, and quickly forgotten. And with a song titled “The Sound and the Fury”, the band ignores the fact that the next phrase from the bard is “signifying nothing”, and unfortunately that’s the part of the line that’s most apropos for the band. At least blame can be spread around, as all four Thieves write and sing their own songs. On the plus side, the four writers’ voices mesh well—it’s not four EPs on one disc. Counting against IV Thieves is the fact that four identities = no identity. Equality is fine, but there’s no unified leader to rally around.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way, as IV Thieves were originally Nic Armstrong and the Thieves, and their debut album, The Greatest White Liar was a heady mix of British blooze rock and ‘60s pop, which may have been derivative as well, but still showed more verve than the re-christened IV Thieves’ take on bland alternarock. In the words of The Simpsons newsanchor Kent Brockman, “Democracy simply does not work.”
As it is, we’re left with a handful of solid rock tunes (“You Can’t Love What You Don’t Understand”, “Take This Heart”, and “Have Pity”) and a bunch of filler. Disappointing, but if you’re looking for proof that too many cooks can spoil the pot…
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