Review Summary: 2001's take on Grunge finds itself to be pretty much the same as 1989's version. Tortured vocals, walls of buzzsaw guitar and slow builds find Thoria in good form on their first release.
By the time Thoria’s debut EP was released Grunge as a genre had been dead for some time. And whilst Wikipedia might imply that it lived on in “Post-Grunge” (a dubious classification if ever there was one), by 2001 Hip-Hop, mainstream “Emo” and Alt. Rock were ascendant. In the UK Grunge had never really made much headway in nurturing home-grown talent, and whilst there were a few attempts at mimicking the sound that put Seattle on the map, groups like Headswim and Kerbdog never achieved critical mass. But as with most things it was only be a matter of time before someone else sized up the thrift store and went searching for flannel apparel. And if Nirvana was the template, then Coventry three piece Thoria were aiming for fidelity when it came to their own take on a UK Grunge sound.
Compared to other UK acts of the time like My Vitriol and Reuben, Thoria weren’t so much a part of the burgeoning musical scene but rather a throwback to the preceding decade. And whilst perhaps a lazy and unfair comparison, Worry Dolls
could in many respects be seen as a British take on Nirvana’s Bleach
. A three piece producing raw, melodic songs which, despite their simplistic structures, exploited the quiet/loud dynamic to the fullest and centred upon a singer whose voice possessed a tortured, and oft a-melodic tone? On paper at least, Thoria took the Nirvana blueprint and ran with it. But where Bleach
embraced its pop sensibilities and embarked upon a sound that the world hadn’t tired of, Worry Dolls
tends to tread the grunge path too closely, forsaking pop hooks for fidelity.
Due to the stripped back approach used on these songs, it becomes immediately apparent that the foundation rests almost entirely on the quality of the vocals. Thankfully Martin Edwards is in possession of a voice that can shift almost schizophrenically between plaintive and murderous, every moment tottering at the brink of tonality. And it’s in the best songs here that this swing is most fully realised. Take “mY fAVOURITE sONG”, with its jaunty Country twang and soft almost lullaby like vocals which subtly steps up the tempo towards its “hit by an iron wall of tanks” chorus, and then backs it down it again until the song skitters off into a chaotic crescendo of noise. At times Edwards almost seems to channel Cobain’s anguish - the plaintive, soulful verses of “sAY tHESE wORDS” which gradually amplify as they move towards the chorus, almost teetering out of tune in places as they travel from mournful to negative and back once more.
And whilst the quiet/loud dynamic is perhaps a tad overused here, with essentially every song tracing a similar route, the buzzsaw assault of guitar and thunderous bass cements these tunes into the listener’s consciousness. By dialling back on the production and allowing the thick groove of the low end to rumble volcanically as the guitar either accentuates it or raucously zigs and zags over the top, the relative lack of instrumental complexity can be overlooked in favour of its immersive quality. “80 iNCHES” grooves it’s way almost sleazily through its sub three minute duration, throat shredding vocals redolent of Seattle’s best known son, and while It might be a feature that disciples of quiet/loud have mastered, for Thoria to have deftly managed it on their first release is worthy of some praise. However, that cacophonous roar isn’t enough to carry the music on its own, and when the sometimes obscure lyrics are either too obtuse or nonsensical the weaker songs tend to bleed into each other. The prime offenders here are “I’VE gOT tHIS fRIEND” and “sUNDAY sHINE” – the former perhaps a minute too long and, although neither lyrically obtuse nor obscure, far too repetitive with its demonic marching band shuffle but no satisfying pay off to its slow build, and the latter without a memorable melody or interesting lyrical centre point makes a tiresome listen.
The best tracks on offer here infuse grunge scuzz with pop hooks and produce an abrasive but palatable hybrid, something that’s not new but is nevertheless satisfying. At times bludgeoning and at others whimsical, Worry Dolls
offers up something that fans of Bleach
might find satisfying yet different enough to remain interesting. The band’s next release, the full length Lovesick
went one step further, honing the songwriting and increasing the variation, but for a first step into Thoria Worry Dolls
is well worth a listen.