by Tim Den
Oh, how we disciples were heartbroken when, after reforming and putting out their best efforts to date (’98’s How it Feels to Be Something On and ’00’s The Rising Tide), Sunny Day Real Estate called it quits again. Can the musical gods be more cruel? Just when the projected growth of the band seemed unstoppable, they yank the plug once more! Aaaaaahhh, the devastation!
Naturally, then, the overwhelming response to the news of The Fire Theft coming to life. Featuring 3/4s of Sunny Day Real Estate (guitarist/back up vocalist Dan Hoerner, rumored to have been the main reason behind the band’s second break up, not included), the band have finally unveiled their debut after two years of speculation and demos floating around cyberspace. The verdict? Emotional songs that are worth the wait, but definitely different enough to alienate lots of Sunny Day Real Estate fans.
The album has a similar feel to How it Feels to Be Something On, and especially guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Enigk’s solo album (Return of the Frog Queen), in that bombast and prog-drama (two of The Rising Tide’s trademarks) are downplayed in favor of ebbing acoustic pleads. Old school fans – if they’ve stuck around this long – will surely lose interest altogether due to the lack of “rocking” parts, but melodiphiles will weep themselves silly over opener “Uncle Mountain,” “Heaven,” and especially “Carry You.” Enigk’s voice, though not as high-pitched as on The Rising Tide, reaches to the sky with haunting power, sounding hopeful, for once, and literally dripping with affection. With backdrops of misty keyboards and foggy atmospheres, many songs here evoke that end-of-movie-climax, replete with sentimental orchestration and Peter Gabriel-esque tragic size. But they pull it off because Enigk’s songs have always been inherently dramatic, and The Fire Theft’s focus on quiet redemption fits its surroundings perfectly.
And although there are misses amongst the gems (“Backward Blues” is a mess-about best left on a four-track in a teenager’s room; “Rubber Bands” is a repetitive instrumental that’s simply dull; and “Sinatra” is a meandering closer to an otherwise fluid album), The Fire Theft is proof that these musical titans cannot be silenced. They might’ve traded in their Rat pedals for MiDi synth patches, but we can be sure that they’ll always have shockingly beautiful songs pouring out of them.