Review Summary: What happens when an extraordinary amount of time provided to make an album isn't wasted.
There are a lot of artists out there who have taken an absurd amount of time to release albums which are flag bearers for the term “hype.” While the six years it took for Streetlight Manifesto to release The Hands That Thieve
doesn’t exactly compete with the 15 it took for Axl Rose to dump Chinese Democracy
, it does prove that the time Tomas Kalnoky and company took was much more wisely invested than the six years a band like Metallica took to crap out something like, say, St. Anger
more wisely invested.
But that should come as no surprise. Streetlight Manifesto has always been a band that’s paid dividends on time and effort and they’re a group who have simply never disappointed or failed to innovate. Never. Even with an album of covers, the band managed to shirk stagnation with moves like transposing the electronics of “Such Great Heights” into a magnificently arranged brass arrangement. So why was there any doubt that The Hands That Thieve
would achieve anything other than perfection?
Aside from the rising sentiment that any hyped album is doomed to crash (and violently, at that), the only real evidence left in the courtroom is Somewhere in the Between
. While it’s an album that’s great enough on its own, following Keasbey Nights
and Everything Goes Numb
, Somewhere in the Between
felt like a certain wind-down for the band. In retrospect, it’s an album not unlike an adolescent phase between Everything Goes Numb
and The Hands That Thieve
– one which struggles (albeit in a very subdued and subtle way) with adding new facets while staying true to form.
Yet, if Everything Goes Numb
is the caterpillar and Somewhere in the Between
is the chrysalis, The Hands That Thieve
is, without a doubt, the resulting butterfly of Streetlight Manifesto’s patience, maturity, and evolution. That’s not to imply that the group have gone the way of the Rx Bandits and shifted gears into unexplored dimensions, but there’s a good degree of fine-tuned experimentation amid Streetlight’s practiced approach to ska on The Hands That Thieve
that seems to bring things full-circle for the group.
For example, lines toward the end of the title track seem to converge as a follow-up to the lyrical themes of “A Better Place, A Better Time” while “Your Day Will Come” ties in with “The Big Sleep.” In each case there’s a progression – a maturing of perspective expressed both lyrically and musically. Though the lyrical continuity can’t be said to pervade every aspect of the album, the maturity certainly is a lasting thread, with “If Only For Memories” literally conveying the sentiment of growing up and moving on to bigger and better things with an absolute mood of positivity.
Perhaps that’s the biggest difference between The Hands That Thieve
and the rest of Streetlight’s discography. While Everything Goes Numb
was a ponderance on life and, at many times, a talking down from the ledge, The Hands That Thieve
seems like a cautious affirmation that continuing on was the right choice (“With Any Sort of Certainty” ) and a bold affirmation of the same sentiment musically (“If Only For Memories”). Yes, there are still tracks which play toward the somber side (“They Broke Him Down”), but for the most part, Streetlight are still a band who play their downtrodden moments in tongue-and-cheek high spirits (“Oh Me, Oh My”). Nothing new to ska, there.
Yet The Hands That Thieve
finds grace in a collage of striking moments that aren’t necessarily long-lived. The slow island strumming and blues trumpet that lead into the frantic “Ungrateful” where the group are at their most punk influenced; the sunrise-over-a-valley military regalia intro of “The Hands That Thieve”; the ‘70s-inspired theme of “If Only For Memories” which, when combined with its first few stanzas reminds me of The Lion King for some reason – all of these and more are excellent examples of the innumerable ways that The Hands That Thieve
digs its claws into the listener in new and exciting ways. Oh, all of that and
grooves and styles that you know and love from previous Streetlight albums (see “The Littlest Things” and “With Any Sort Of Certainty” for the most “traditional-sounding” Streetlight tunes on the album) which also
contribute neatly to that whole “full-circle” thing.
With all of that, what’s not
to love? The Hands That Thieve
is an exceptionally well-crafted Streetlight album which deviates enough to gleefully assert its independence while retaining hallmark character. There’s not a misstep to be heard on the album and Kalnoky’s lyrics are as poignant as ever. It may not be as immediately striking as Everything Goes Numb
, but The Hands That Thieve
has a replay factor at least equal to the band’s landmark release and a host of tunes which are equal in power, but very different in tone, making the two albums equally-sized cities at opposite ends of the same nation. It’s got to be good when they’re both made out of gold, right?