Thieves & Liars
When Dreams Become Reality

The press notes from the debut album of Thieves & Liars proudly proclaim that rock ‘n’ roll is not dead. If this is the best it has to offer, though, it’s certainly on life support.

A concept album, When Dreams Become Reality is a muddle of 1970s retro rock that, by and large, gets the licks right, but utterly fails to capture the spirit of that great era in rock ‘n’ roll. There’s not an original thought anywhere on the record. In fact, there’s not a thought here that hasn’t been done better 30 years ago.

The record is sort of a rock retelling of “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and it starts promising enough with “The Dream,” essentially a jam track that shows traces of bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Deep Purple. It’s a decent start, but it goes downhill. There are nice moments sprinkled throughout the record, a riff here, a melody there, but those never quite seem to come together into a complete performance. I particularly like the licks that open “Good Times,” but the song quickly devolves into a third-rate early Aerosmith rip-off, and that’s the problem that most of the good moments on the album have — they’re lost in mediocre songs.

There are a few things missing here. Aside from great songs, the ’70s bands that Thieves & Liars are trying to imitate — Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, etc. — had two qualities that you can’t underestimate. First, they all had a ton of cocky swagger and confidence. There was a cool that dripped off of every note that they played. The sound slapped you in the face and demanded that you pay attention. Nothing here does that. Those bands also, without exception, had dynamic front men. Vocalist and bassist Joey Bradford just doesn’t have the chops to hang with guys named Tyler and Plant. Granted, few singers do, but when you step into those waters, you had better be able to deliver something memorable. Bradford’s voice, for the most part, is bland and generic. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t do anything to draw you into the song. He also seems to have the mistaken impression that if he yells in places, it gives his vocals more power. Having Bradford step back to bass full time and hiring a dynamic singer would probably elevate the band a great deal.

One area where Thieves & Liars does come close to the 1970s feel and one thing they get very right, is the packaging of the album. The thick, heavy booklet that comes with the CD features 12 cool pieces of art from Dave Quiggle and puts you back in mind of those great vinyl albums, where you could sit back and study the artwork while you listened. It’s something not too many bands do anymore, and it’s something I miss. I give them a lot of credit for that.

There are some promising moments during the course of When Dreams Become Reality, but it really sounds like this is a band that needs a few more years to define and refine its sound. I suspect if I were in a bar with a few drinks in me and Thieves & Liars was playing on the stage, putting out some energy, I might walk away thinking, “those guys rocked.” In the cold, sober light of day, though, Thieves & Liars sounds like an average bar band that managed to get a record deal.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Fred Phillips
March 20th, 2008

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