Thrush Hermit: From the Back of the Film
want to begin with a small exercise for you all to participate in. It will require some thought, and it may stump you for hours, days, or weeks on end. It’s not supposed to be unrealistically difficult to find an answer, but it very well could be. There is no one universal answer to it, as it will be different for every person that ponders it. And no, it has nothing to do with the meaning of life (or does it):
Not counting any deaths or similar unfortunate circumstances, how many bands have willingly ended their careers in the same year that they release their best musical work?
No hurry, I’ll wait for you…
Whether you have come up with an answer or not, it’s not difficult to understand the difficulty of this conundrum. The music world is one filled with drug-related deaths, ugly backstage feuding, and great musicians whose genius sadly fades away with passing twilight albums. This is not to say that any of these are all negatives, it is merely to point out that there is no great temptation to call it a career during a group’s musical apex. Against convention, this is what Thrush Hermit did in 1999.
By band frontman Joel Plaskett’s own admission, the bands musicianship hit its high point with 1999’s Clayton Park and the subsequent months of touring after its release. They had come out of the mini-explosion of Halifax pop-rock with a major name for themselves and, second only to Sloan, created a fervent base support throughout their eastern surroundings. Their spirited live presence was the stuff of local music legend, and people beyond the Maritimes took notice. Clayton Park found them a major studio push for their highly praised album, but before they could be on the tip of people’s indie rock tongues they were gone.
It’s very easy to turn this into a sob story, but when we are left with songs like “From The Back Of The Film,” it’s better to just take two minutes and four seconds and quietly rock out. Rooted in 70’s stadium rock, an opening drum solo leads into Plaskett’s barely-echoing vocals and a guitar riff that any classic rock fiend would be proud of. Few can resist the temptation to stomp their feet and nod their head here, not unlike a favorite Zeppelin or Skynyrd tune.
But this is no “Sweet Home Alabama,” and it’s the subject matter rather than the music that set it apart. Boiling the verse/chorus down to the essentials, we have a young man who wishes for the bravado of a movie star but is not imaginative enough to avoid succumbing to his depression on his lonely trips to the cinema. Plaskett’s second verse tries to convince us that he is more worldly than he lets on (“I spent some time in some cities”), but even he can’t convince himself (“Fate is all I’ve got”).
Though it doesn’t sound altogether charming, the dubious appeal comes in the individual outburst both in character and instrumentally. Our cohesive structure is suddenly lost for a brilliant five seconds, a swirling kaleidoscope of distorted guitar, crashing cymbals, and forceful-yet-totally-random pounding on a piano’s ivories. But like all likable losers our man composes himself quickly and finds himself with the same old song, back at the theatre again knowingly going through the same old routine.
So my opening question still looms onto a band like Thrush Hermit. It’s so hard to look back and ask if we would still love the Beatles like we do now if they left after Revolver? Would we hail U2 as masters if they threw in the towel after Achtung Baby? Like Jack Black asks John Cusack while working in Championship Viynl, “Is it better to burn out than to fade away?”
You think whatever you want to think. There is no right or wrong in these sorts of inquiries. For those of you who choose to follow this line of questioning, I wish you all the best.
Me, I’ll be in my apartment keeping Clayton Park close by my stereo.
By: Matt Sheardown
Published on: 2006-01-11