Review Summary: Rupture the wall around my heart
Hunter S. Thompson once said in a prophetic essay shortly after 9/11:
“The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.”
You ask any “emo” band that comes from the New Jersey/NY area that rose to fame in the early 2000s about what inspired their creation, you’ll hear 9/11 talked about a lot. The most obvious examples are My Chemical Romance and Senses Fail, whose frontmen have mentioned 9/11 as a large influence on their songwriting and motivation to make music. Thursday wasn’t formed after 9/11, but one of their best albums comes from the wellspring of grief and confusion it spawned. You look at the album title and think “Well, no ***. War All The Time, written two years after the towers went down. Like every other band at the time.” That’s where it gets interesting, because if you look at interviews with Geoff Rickly asking him about the album, he stresses heavily that it isn’t a bold political statement or anything similar. Rather, War All The Time is a metaphor for love and daily life feeling like a constant war. Quite frankly, I think he’s part right, in that a few songs on this album do reference relationships and self-related struggles with the language of conflict and violence. But when looking at the song titles, and looking at the lyrics, its impossible to deny that while not being a call-out to the U.S. government or people, a majority of this album’s content essentially deals with living daily life in post-9/11 disillusionment and how Americans everywhere struggle in its aftermath. Thursday, on their third album, have done something truly genius that few bands ever even think of, much less execute correctly: they have molded the personal and the political together.
At center stage on these eleven songs is vocalist and lyricist Geoff Rickly, who gives a performance so passionate and beautifully written that it brings me to the verge of tears at various moments every time I listen to this album. There are songs where he sounds like he’s on the verge of breaking down in tears by the end, such as “Steps Ascending” and “War All The Time” two of the albums slower, more ballad-like tracks that slowly build up to grand finales sold one-hundred percent convincingly by Rickly’s wailing. However, making up for his arguably limited range, Rickly has many more tricks up his sleeves. From piano ballads(This Song Is Brought To You By A Falling Bomb) to spoken word parts(Asleep In The Chapel) to beautifully cathartic shouting at the end of a song(M. Shepard) every word that comes out of Rickly’s mouth in every way is delivered with so much sincerity it makes even lines like “Maybe the night seemed so dark, because the day is much too bright” have the weight of a boulder rolling down the cliffside. Rickly’s lyricism on this album is probably the overall best of any record to come out of that era. It tackles everything from religious disillusionment and workers abused by capitalism to dysfunctional romantic relationships. But the most powerful songs lyrically are the ones that take all of the anger, sadness, and confusion that induced self-reflection and observations towards the current state of society in the wake of 9/11 and summarize it in a few pained lines, such as this one part of “Asleep In The Chapel”
“We woke up this morning to a street filled with a thousand burning crosses
And what we thought was the sunrise
Just passing headlights”
Or the chorus of War All The Time:
“War all of the time
In the shadow of the New York skyline
We grew up too fast, falling apart
Like the ashes of American flags”
I’d need a few more paragraphs to properly dissect the masterpiece that is “M. Shepard” dedicated to Matthew Shepard, a gay man that was the victim of a vicious homophobia-motivated beating that lead to his death days later. The song describes the complicity of many of us in the face of oppression, and the eventual toll it will take if we choose to do nothing. It’s probably the best example on the album of putting very political subjects in a personal context and focusing more on how things affect us throughout our daily lives.
What’s always been so confusing to me about this album is how people see it compared to Full Collapse. Generally Full Collapse is seen as the masterpiece of the first half of Thursday’s career, and War All The Time it’s still good, but less interesting follow up. It’s hard to justify any of that upon listening to any of the songs in this album. The songwriting on War All The Time is much more dynamic and almost never falls into a complacent verse/chorus/verse/chorus structure, unlike its predecessor. See: The piano ballad, the entirety of “Between Rupture and Rapture”, or The foreboding bridge into the outro of “Division St.” This is all greatly aided by the instrumentals, which show Thursday far more bold and interesting than they were on anything they had put on before. The addition of Andrew Everding as a key/synth player helps a lot of the mood of this album, where he contributes a great synth lead on “Signals Over The Air” and a brief ambient electronic interlude on “M. Shepard.” The guitar work on this album has taken quite a step up, as Tom Keeley and Steve Pedulla take a much more dynamic role on this album, shifting between octave-chord choruses distant melodic leads to perfectly encapsulate the tug-of-war this album plays between restrained sorrow and passionate cries for meaning and cohesion. The rhythm section, while always on point in this band, ups its game as well. Tim Payne contributes plenty of great bass playing that accentuates the guitar work and provides basslines of his own that take center stage and propel the song at times, such as on “Between Rupture and Rapture” or allow for a moment of calm that slowly builds up to a gigantic conclusion worthy of the album closer “Tomorrow I’ll Be You.” Tucker Rule provides plenty of great, subtly shifting beats and build ups to many songs that make them all that much more anthemic. This all adds up to form another aspect of the album that is quite underlooked, which is how cohesive and narrative-like it feels. The first two tracks have plenty of energy and oscillation between sadness and anger to capture the feelings towards the imperfect world one experiences on a daily basis. Everything from there goes into either the slower, more moody side of the band, or the louder, more impassioned side. Album closer “Tomorrow I’ll Be You” feels like the cleansing of all of one’s worries while looking forward to hope for a possible future that the lyrics describe, a massive guitar intro building into a heart-on-sleeve chorus that ends with the refrain of “We are cured.” It’s a song that when compared to Full Collapse closer “How Long Is The Night” seems much more thought out and focused.
There are a few aspects that drag the album down, but aren’t enough to make it anything less than a near-masterpiece. The production could definitely be fuller. The guitars don’t have much of a low end to them, and the drumming doesn’t have the most impactful sound, with the snare not being that punchy and the kick feeling a bit too low in the mix. Definitely not like their later records, which had a much fuller, enveloping sound to them in every way. There are a few songs that honestly seem pretty underwhelming compared to others on the album, such as opener “For The Workforce, Drowning” that sees Thursday making something that could have easily been on Full Collapse with its straightforwardness, and “Signals Over The Air”, which seems a bit too poppy to fit on the record, with its repeating hook and synth lead. None of that changes the overall greatness of this album, as both are still pretty great songs on their own.
9/11 blew a hole in the heart of the American conscience, and left us scrambling to pick up the shattered pieces of what we knew before, only finding that much of it was an illusion to begin with On War All The Time, Thursday has figured it out. We’ve been trying to reconstruct the American dream while its pillars had been crumbling all around us for decades before us. And when we fail, we run back to our lovers and friends and daily lives, and find that it's no less confusing or hurtful. The “mysterious enemy” we’ve been at war with existed long before the towers feel. It is ourselves. And we will stay at war with them for the rest of our lives, because our lives, and our love is a war that only ends when we die, and now we fight it against a burning canvas of everything that used to mean something.