Hiding behind its pop patina, Boyce Thompson’s first album depicts barren, bizarre landscape of longing, whether it be for a rising tide to lift all spiritual boats, an alternative universe where people party all day long, or perfect love. The latter appears to be out of reach, “beyond a bridge, where the wild ponies run.”
None of these end games are achieved, just longed for. Moreover, hazards line the path, as the existential protagonist in A Thousand Ships sings,
a thousand ships have collided here
yet we sail through the debris
chart our course by shooting stars
using laughter as our breeze
When love appears, it’s by chance. It shows up at the curb, like the airstreams in Love is a Food Truck, a seeming parody of Latin hits from the seventies. When you sample love’s cuisine, the singer sings, “it’s better than you’ve heard.” But when you come back the next day, hankering for more, the truck is predictably gone. You look at the faces in the crowd. “Their bewildered looks share in your torment.”
Or else love is buried deep under ground, surfacing only in the spring, as in Sworn to Secrecy. A string of hopelessly unresolved, parallel sharp-11 cords creates a melancholy backdrop for this meditation on the hopeless of enduring love. Love is apparently something too dangerous to talk about. The only way to find it is to start over in a new town. Even then, it’s not clear that it will work.
Thompson’s dour imagination is predictably populated by down and out figures, the kind who regularly appear in blues and rock tunes. But these icons — the homeless operators of fake abortion clinics in the park, mullet-haired rednecks who drive El Caminos into the night, listless arrested adolescents who call themselves serial entrepreneurs — try our patience for compassion, ultimately leaving us to wonder why we spent close to an hour with the record.
The album has at least one redeeming song, Moon Over Ft. Worth, ostensibly written for a theatrical production of the same name. But even in this catchy tune, the protagonist lashes out at others who would lay claim to the moon, all the while claiming it for his own in blatantly hypocritical style. Granted, many songs have been written about the moon. But the listener is left wondering: Does the world really need another one?
–Rock Critic Booth Neyscop