!!! – Thr!!!er
The success of any given !!! song (or album) hinges on how well the band merges their Liquid Liquid-esque jams with their pop songwriting. At their best, they manage something startlingly fun and inventive; at their worst, their music can sound like the numbing backbeat of a dying party. And with their closest (and most famous) contemporary LCD Soundsystem out of the picture, it’s do or die time for !!!, at least if they want to inherit the dance-punk throne. If their fifth album, Thr!!!er, doesn’t quite go so far as to clinch that title, it does at least seem to want to court a wider audience, as the band back off from their dense, gnarled productions in favor of something smoother and stripped down. As a result, Thr!!!er is probably their most accessible record—and it’s also their most unabashedly retro. To be sure, !!! have always worn their influences on their collective sleeve, but from the robotic keyboard tones and swooning saxophone lines that punctuate “Get That Rhythm Right” to the Bee Gees/Prince falsettos on “One Girl/One Boy,” early ’80s electro-funk and synth-pop is the name of the game here. Fortunately, particularly in the record’s first half, they pull it off; this is some of the band’s purest pop, and even though a few of the members have switched up over the years, this is still a band that can work a groove better than most. “Even When The Water’s Cold,” with its lucid guitar leads and bouncing hook, is the obvious single here, that is, if it weren’t for “One Girl/One Boy”‘s glitzy stomp. “Fine Fine Fine,” meanwhile, conjures the sensual menace of early New Romantic bands like Visage, and the rollicking closer “Station (Meet Me At The)” is the hardest, most propulsive thing here. Yet, for a group that always thrived on overloaded arrangements and complex rhythms, Thr!!!er‘s reigned-in approach ends up hurting the record as a whole. Sure, the slinky “Get Your Rhythm Right” benefits, but “Californiyeah” and “Except Death” end up pulling the short straws, since their simple melodies and productions are too slight to sustain themselves in this atypically bare-bones setting. And that low-impact, low-energy feeling permeates the entire album, weighing even the best moments down and keeping them from achieving transcendence. That said, even if the highlights here don’t reach the levels of !!!’s best work, this is still a consistently winning, breezy set of jams, and you could do a lot worse than to listen in. It’s a mixed bag, but Thr!!!er still offers the hope that, one day, !!! will nail all the aspects of their sound on record to create something truly worthy of that throne.