Review Summary: Thrice have surprised us yet again.
Context is a powerful thing in music. Many albums are considered great because of the time frame in which they were released. The Shape of Punk to Come is a brilliant record, but it is considered so in part because it marks the birthplace of the modern post-hardcore sound. Kid A is legendary because it kick started a new millennium of music in a fashion completely removed from Radiohead’s past stylistic leanings. Major/Minor is not an album of such far-reaching consequence as The Shape of Punk To Come or Kid A, but it is a pivotal moment in the Thrice discography. Beggars was well received, but to many, a disappointment. The band’s new sense of groove was undeniably satisfying, but there was a lack of the ambition that we have come to love about Thrice. The fact that Beggars was the follow up to Thrice’s most ambitiously experimental outing, The Alchemy Index, did not help matters either. Major/Minor arrives at a point of uncertainty as to Thrice’s direction. This is largely due to the name of unpredictability they have made for themselves over the years, but also because Beggars had a lot of us a little worried. Thrice have surprised us yet again.
Major/Minor actually bears a striking resemblance to its older brother, The Artist in the Ambulance, and obviously this resemblance isn’t found in metallic riffing and breakdowns, but rather in sheer relentless energy. I’ve always adored Artist for having practically no dynamic shifts to speak of from song to song. Every track is a post hardcore monster of very similar intensity and flow, yet all the songs don’t jumble together. Major/Minor affects the listener in much the same way. The most subdued track is the beautiful Disarmed, which closes out the album with a bang that rivals the ending of Red Sky. Many will cite Words In The Water as a quieter song, but really the choruses are big and driving and the outro is just huge. We’ve come to expect a Wood and Wire or Song For Milly Michaelson on the new Thrice outing, but there is no such song on Major/Minor. This is admittedly a slight disappointment that marks the album’s only weakness. I am enthralled by Thrice’s returned sense of urgency, but I do also cherish the beautiful lullabies like Atlantic and Night Diving. In the end, one must take a step back and realize that Thrice have had to deal with that one guy in the back screaming “T&C!!!” at every show they’ve played for easily half a decade. Let’s not double back on them again, crying out for Daedalus. They have given us more than enough experimentation over the years and now they’re doing what they have always done best: making a fantastic rock record.
Major/Minor isn’t just a rock record in the way that Beggars was. Back in the days of The Artist in the Ambulance and Vheissu, Thrice were easily characterized by a single word: power. Pieces like Silhouette, The Melting Point Of Wax, The Earth Will Shake and For Miles all embraced heaving mid-tempo rhythms driven by baritone guitars and souring melody lines. This is Thrice’s sweet spot, and yet for all their innovation and growth over the years, some of that incredible, jaw-dropping power was lost. They haven’t done something that even touches the flooring crescendo of Stand And Feel Your Worth for some time. As I first listened through the whole of Major/Minor in one sitting, I realized the source of the smile on my face during the last chorus of Anthology. It’s simple. Thrice are powerful again. They have rediscovered their love for those huge, booming choruses that live right in that open, mid-tempo pocket, and Dustin delivers a performance that continues to reinforce him as one of the smartest and most passionate front men on the scene today.
Dustin is anything but shy about his worldview, and Major/Minor may be his most explicitly personal work in terms of identifying himself as a Christian. Only three songs on Major/Minor (Promises, Call It in the Air and Blur) have nothing to do with bold biblical statements and professions. Listen Through Me is probably Dustin’s most blatant proclamation of the gospel to date as he pleads “Listen to me / though I speak of sober things / Listen through me / though a man of lips unclean / Sparing no expense he made recompense for all the earth / This story’s an offense so get down from that fence and bless or curse.” Dustin challenges his audience to take life seriously and to think about what they believe more than ever on Major/Minor. Treading Paper is a call to see the world as more than just the physical (“If anything means anything, there must be something meant for us to be”) and Words in the Water is a brilliantly allegorical approach to the story of redemption through Christ’s death. Dustin does well to walk the fine line between challenging and preaching, but he is obviously not too concerned with offending anybody with his worldview here, and through this we get one of the most passionate Thrice albums ever produced. The listener can take it or leave it, and that seems to be Dustin’s attitude through every fiber of this record.
All of this comes back to the context of Major/Minor. However offensive it may be, Dustin is singing about things that rest within the very core of his being. One must respect that. On a broader level, one of the most powerful aspects of this album is the knowledge of the hardships the band was going through during its production. Ed and Riley’s dad and Teppei’s mother both passed away while Dustin’s father was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. On top of these heavy blows, a hefty portion of the band’s gear was stolen on two occasions. Blur is an exponentially more meaningful track with this context in mind. The pain, anger and frustration are so thick in Dustin’s screams; “Why does this keep happening? I try to close my eyes but I can’t blink / and the world keeps moving on / black and white blur into one…” Musically, the song is fast, angry, and probably the closest the album ever gets to being “heavy,” yet simultaneously it is truly and profoundly sad. This incredibly effective juxtaposition is what solidifies Blur as one of the album’s brilliant highlights.
In the end, what makes Major/Minor such a success is the way in which it is so decidedly triumphant. Disarmed is a simply stunning conclusion to the album, preceded by one of the most uplifting and sentimental songs Thrice have ever written, Anthology. Dustin’s lyrical nods to his past work in this track are a warm and joyful thing (“I bragged of baring my bones / said if we heard the howling I’d run out to face it alone / to meet it halfway”) that will have Thrice fans beaming as they sing along to this new classic at future shows. It is this sense of intentional, chosen joy that ends Major/Minor with a magnificently satisfying tone of finality. By the time the last note rings out one can hardly wish for more. Thrice have been through hell this year, and yet they conclude their album with this simple message to evil, pain and death: “Now that you have been disarmed, we can cross over unharmed.” Such a persistent hope is too rare in our music.