Beats, girl talk and guys playing synths have become inescapable cliches in modern music. So what distinguishes Thieves Like Us besides a chance meeting and a shared dislike of their expat home's music scene? The band's stiffly danceable single in 2005, "Drugs In My Body," may have been aligned with hip, French fashion and dance label Kitsuné, but the group soon moved to the more introspective and poppy Shelflife label for its 2009 downbeat debut, Play Music. The album went against the grain of forward-thinking German and French peers (by this time, they had also spent time in Paris) and floated aimlessly through a salty sea of synthy nostalgia.
It would be somewhat misleading to take your band name from the hallowed canon of an illustrious, richly revered beat combo and then sound nothing like them. It would all be “A bit of a swizz”. Well Swedish/American synth pop trio Thieves Like Us sensibly agree with you, and thus their second opus Again & Again sounds more like the introspective, melodic, electronica of New Order than the beer swillin’, wench leering, hair metal of Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts.
This is the second album from Thieves Like Us, a trio consisting of two expatriate Swedes and one expatriate American who met at a picnic in East Berlin and have never been able to settle down permanently in one place since. That fact might lead you to expect music with an unsettled feel and a wide variety of influences, but if anything, it suffers at times from a certain sameness of texture and flatness of affect. That's not to say that the music isn't attractive and even heartfelt -- just that there's an almost poker-faced feeling to many of the songs, and it sometimes creates a curious counterpoint to the old-school electro bounce on which they all tend to be built.
Despite the charms of its debut album Play Music (2008), there was no getting around the fact that Europe-based trio Thieves Like Us is a group pretty much predicated on the notion that it quite openly loves New Order so much you guys. Thieves Like Us don’t bother shaking off their retro inclinations on their second album (this is a group that credits OMD for inspiring a specific song in the liner notes, after all). However, they at least veer beyond their post-punk electronica inspirations to incorporate elements of ‘80s lite funk, not to mention make the occasional concession to more modern dance music styles.
The Onion ran a great headline last May: "Not Very Good Album Takes a Little While to Get Into". Scouring average music for hidden value used to be pretty necessary, but those days are gone. When we had to pay for physical albums, we forgave them more and were willing to work to get our money's worth. Now that people often download them for free, they expect deeper and more immediate gratification.
On its debut, Play Music, Thieves Like Us plundered previous greats (New Order, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode) for all its ideas. This larceny was so blatant that one could play of variation of Name That Tune as Name Which Tune Is Being Ripped Off. Considering Thieves' excellent taste in music, as witnessed by what they copy, it would be more interesting to hear ideas inspired by these choices.