“If you still believe in me son, I know our day will come”. The Thrills’ day, though, had arguably been and gone around the summer of 2003, when a battalion of summery pop acts – Delays, Hal, Thirteen Senses – rallied behind these hazy beach dreamers in the now forgotten War On Shroomadelica. So much brilliant, luscious, sun-drenched deckchair pop music drizzled in syrupy pianos and sugary harmonies and what did we get out of it? Keane. No wonder history looks less than kindly on the legacy of The Thrills.
But just as Princess Diana isn’t to blame for the ball-aching shitshow that was her Memorial Concert, you can’t hang the albatross of Fat Tom and his plinky MOR mates around the neck of The Thrills. Not that the band themselves would care if you did; trends and fashions mean nothing when you’re on an eternal back-pack trip through pop’s sunnier climes.
And so, like barmen at your favourite Ibiza cocktail dive, they welcome you back; familiar, comforting and with a couple of years’ worth of new stories to tell. Conor’s lovelorn croak is as adorable as ever, Daniel Ryan’s guitars twangle dreamily, Kevin Horan’s keyboards have finally been proved by DNA testing to be descended from the piano that Brian Wilson wrote ‘California Girls’ on, and there’s still a banjo player hunkered around a bonfire in some distant corner of the studio. No alarms, no surprises – the Klaxons remixes are noticeable by their absence and it clearly never crossed anybody’s mind to put a call in to Dizzee Rascal – ‘Teenager’ is simply more wonderful, bittersweet laze-pop of a hue at which The Thrills have become grand masters. ‘The Midnight Choir’ adds backwards guitars and a classical harpsichord tint that’s almost Meat Loafian, the barrelling pop aceness of ‘This Year’ seems to have hijacked Bob Dylan’s touring harmonica truck and ‘I’m So Sorry’ couldn’t be more ‘Born To Run’ if it got itself a motorbike and a job in a New Jersey steelworks. Otherwise it’s all woozy alt.country swayalongs and huggable “Do-do-do-be-do-be-do” refrains until the Cabbage Patch Kids come home.
Where The Thrills have moved on is lyrically. Debut album ‘So Much For The City’ was a musical Rough Guide to the coastal resorts of southern California and ‘Let’s Bottle Bohemia’ was a stained sepia image of a forgotten urban Dublin; ‘Teenager’, as the title suggests, finds Conor lost in the reveries of his youth. It starts celebratory – jaunty pop janglers ‘I Came All This Way’ and single ‘Nothing Changes Round Here’ are full of “backseat fumblings” and lurid first-time confessions. But by the end of the record Conor’s in far more mournful a mood, repeatedly sighing “I envy your youth” through the maudlin ‘Should’ve Known Better’ and yearning for lost teenage kicks in the torch song title track – “You remember being beautiful?/Regrets, regrets, regretsâ€¦”. It smacks of glories faded and high times sorrowfully remembered, yet its mother album tells a different story, of a band striding confidently into countryfied maturity at the peak of their powers. And you know what? A little faith, a bit of luck and maybe a Keane support tour and this really could be The Thrills’ year.