What, oh what can a band do next after releasing a 4-album epic tome? Well, they could wallow in their own creativity for years, tour, and eventually put out some lackadaisical effort…or they could be Thrice, and return less than a year and a half later with the 10 songs that comprise Beggars. They could even put their heart and soul into a gorgeous 44 minutes of music, only to have it leak onto the internet 3 months early. But this review isn’t about the leak, which pushed up their release date by 2 months. In fact, it has nothing to do with the leak. It’s about the breathtaking, glorious music. And oh, is it glorious.
Whereas The Alchemy Index, Thrice’s 5th album(s), encircled itself around the tone, the character of the music itself, exploring thematic depths, Beggars returns to the idea of an album as a group of songs. Perhaps the only weakness of Alchemy was that in many places it dragged as Thrice experimented; Beggars spurns that weakness. Out of their back catalogue, Beggars is most similar to Vheissu. However, at that point it had only been 4 years since Thrice’s debut album, and now, 4 more years have passed – and the band has grown by leaps and bounds. Gone is the aggressive puerility of “Hold Fast Hope” and the long-winded experimentation of “Stand And Feel Your Worth.” Now, Thrice’s songs are substantial and strong. Only two tracks reach 5 minutes, and neither one feels like it. Not a moment of space is wasted.
The title Beggars is a question begging for an answer; it is immediately obvious that this album will not be shallow. Is it a title chosen simply for its poetic quality, or does it represent the entire album on a deeper level? If it does, who are the beggars? Thrice know the answer, but they aren’t going to just give it to you – you need to earn it. You need to listen to each note, each lyrics, and find the beggars.
Start at the beginning, for Thrice does nothing by accident, and the tracking is no mistake. “All The World Is Mad” enters with a staccato bass riff over pounding drums, and the auguring line “we are saints made of plaster, our laughter is canned; we are demons that hide in the mirror, but the blood on our hands paints a picture exceedingly clear.” You see, “something has gone terribly wrong with everyone; all the world is mad,” and we’re trying to fix it by medicating, legislating, and “educating sin from our souls.” The song is one of the hardest on Beggars, asking you to listen just as hard. And it gets your attention, just in time for “The Weight,” a spectacular piece with an explosive chorus of trust and love: “come what may, I won’t abandon you or leave you behind, because love is a loyalty sworn, not a burning for a moment.”
Next, the album takes its first of three detours into the land of meager, pauper songs. “Circles” is not grand like its brethren; its percussion fades into the background as a contemplative guitar and melancholy vocals take over. The song describes the lost, wandering in circles, who “[build] towers with no foundations.” The other two bankrupt tracks sketch a wrongly-imprisoned man (“Wood & Wire”) and an “O Captain My Captain”-esque story of war on the oceans (“The Great Exchange”). But in between Thrice keep busy. “In Exile” portrays “a nomad, a wanderer,” while “At The Last” speaks from the voice of an old man, soon to die, who regrets not spending time on more worthwhile enterprises. Even the album’s weakest track, “Talking Through Glass,” grabs the listener’s attention with its plea for understanding.
But the two other songs, 20% of the album, are its core. “Doublespeak” is the rant of a man who, like everyone else, shifts blame for the sins of this world to anyone but himself, without taking into account his own culpability. “I don’t want to know who really pulls the strings, just as long as it’s not you or me,” he sings disconsolately. And on the epic closer, “Beggars,” the voice reappears, though more objectively. He asks the “great men of power” and the “rulers of men” if they ever consider they’re “really rather small,” and then finally answers the question of the Beggars - “don’t you know that all things hang as if on a string over darkness, poised to fall. If there’s one thing I know in this life, we are beggars all.” So that’s it. Is the world lost, then? No, because “everything’s grace after all.” Perhaps this could be interpreted as religious, but since each one of is a beggar, I prefer to consider it a statement that we, the beggars, will find our own grace. And perhaps a little of it through music.
For the madmen, the lovers, the lost, the liable, the voyagers, the regretful, the guilty and the innocent, the alone, the soldiers and sailors, the great men and the poor men; we’re all beggars.
Stream: “All the World Is Mad”
Stream: “The Weight”