Probably because we don’t get a lot of crap records in the mail and we’re all understanding and willing to treat the music we listen to on its own terms, few albums here at the Modern Pea Pod headquarters have received negative reviews. Just check the archive: a lot of digital ink spilled over music that we, for the most part, really enjoy. The Trews’ sophomore album, Den of Thieves, is unfortunately one of those crap records we try to stay away from. It’s not hard to tell, either; you can infer it partly through the packaging: hilarious cover art with a silhouette of the band ostensibly “rockin’ out?” Check. Bland, vague, unemotional lyrics? Check. Group photo of the suspiciously fashionable and attractive band members? Check. And as a special bonus, they’re Canadian too.
Fact: both of the band’s albums have gone gold in Canada. Yep, six top ten singles, including two number one hits. Oh Canada, how you disappoint me. Here we have another instance of a band that’s shit-hot on the Canadian popular music charts trying to break into the American market, which for some strange reason seems to be incredibly difficult. American rock radio certainly has enough bland music dripping out of its FM signals, but the fact that the Trews are as popular as they are means they have appeal somehow, and I feel like I’m in a constant state of denial about that appeal.
This certainly isn’t new; it’s more like a regurgitation of a bunch of pop-rock influences we’ve all heard over and over, channeled through some dudes who practice their instruments a lot and have expensive haircuts. It’s just repressing and formulaic, stylistic cut and paste. I’m not going to discuss their melodies, or arrangements. Theoretically there’s nothing wrong with them, but it just feels wrong to me somehow, like the fashionable rock of the past 30 years just conflated into a 2006 teenage idiom. Consume away, kids! There’ll be another unimaginative “It” band next year.
The lyrics are boring. The vocal melodies are uninteresting and underdeveloped. Lead singer Colin McDonald sings like every ’90s alt-rocker you can remember. And as for stylistic launching points, if you haven’t been taking political asylum in Bosnia for the past thirty years, I think you know exactly which bands I’m talking about: Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, The Beatles, Black Crowes, blah blah blah. I think the Tracy Bonham cover on this album speaks for the group’s musical influences more than any of my criticism can.
For reasons beyond my ken, however, Den of Thieves was produced by Jack Douglas, semi-legendary producer/engineer of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, pre-’79 Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, etc. Of course, his pedigree as a producer and engineer sort of relies on his earlier jobs; these days he’s mostly doing Aerosmith and Cheap Trick compilations.
Anyway, this record is made up of 15 tracks filled with rockers and a few ballads thrown in for good measure (maybe you’ve listened to albums like that before?). And the production that might make it laudable for critics just annoys the shit out of me. I can admit that Douglas is a good producer, and this is the kind of material he’s most suited for; but his touch just seems to gloss over all the energy and youthfulness that the Trews could have had. If I could listen to the Trews under desired circumstances, it would be live. I can imagine them pulling together a pretty adept live show with some energy. As it is, the album feels inert, like it’s dragging its feet under the weight of all those boring idioms and riffs.
The end result of all this is, quite naturally, highly marketable alt-rock that your sister and/or modern rock-loving roommate will love. I wish the best of luck to the Trews. Keep on winning those Canadian music awards and stuff, guys, and remember to keep looking sharp. JUST PLEASE STAY AWAY FROM THE USA AND ITS RESPECTIVE RADIO STATIONS. We have enough crap over here, seriously. Thanks.
Reviewed by Jon Cameron