Rosie Thomas - Only With Laughter Can You Win (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Rosie Thomas

Only With Laughter Can You Win (2003)

Sub Pop

There's a problem with Roise Thomas' sophomore release on Sub Pop Records. Aside from the obvious, namely that she's signed to the same label that built its foundation on bands such as Tad, Mudhoney, Nirvana, and Reverend Horton Heat, there's confusion within the recording itself. I'm convinced that someone dropped the ball and forgot to remind Rosie Thomas that the name of the record is "Only With Laughter Can You Win," or she truly believes that down-tempo, whispered songs of self-reflection are knee-slappers. The latter doesn't make too much sense, so apparently the former is the cause of confusion in this album for there is nothing terribly funny or extremely entertaining, in a laughter-inducing kind of way, on this Sub Pop release. But there's also nothing tongue-in-cheek about the title in connection to the songs, a little pretension maybe, but this isn't the case either. In fact, the only power this record has over its listener is to lull him or her into a deep-ten-year sleep which can be fun, but there's no laughter involved in that type of fun. It's unfortunate that this record is not (at all) exciting, for Rosie Thomas is blessed with a beautiful voice, the production is crisp and full, and the musicianship is fantastic providing a very real life for her songs. And yet she's confused herself with her own thoughts and misplaced the window to her soul offering a gorgeous record that is unfunny and uninteresting.

Brandishing influences such as Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, and possibly Jackson Brown, Rosie completely captures the lush and delicate arrangements and sounds of these musicians but she falls quite short of embracing their means of expression and subtlety in her lyrics, mistaking brief, plain understatement for depth. This mistake preys heavily on the listener's patience for the opening song "Let Myself Fall," a vocal piece performed with her mother Delores Thomas McMullen, sets up the record perfectly by showcasing everything that Rosie Thomas has to offer at this time in her career; an incredibly sexy voice, gorgeous accompaniment, delicate melody, and the (yawn) lyrics "I let myself fall (x3)/In love with You/There's no turning back (x3)/Since I let myself fall in love with you/Now I picture things (x2)/Wedding gowns and wedding rings/Since I let myself fall in love with you." The rest of the album unfolds with ten songs that have the same tempo, same dreamy music, and the same dull and impotent lyrics; however, she does add instrumentation to the other songs. It's not only her lyrics that ruin these songs, but a combination of her words and the lack of surprise and the seriousness of her tone. On "Red Rover" Thomas can't even sound like she's having fun with her interpretation of a children's song, granted the song is a plea for children not to grow up like their parents, but when the repeated lyrics are "Red rover, red rover" it's amazing that the delivery can be so flat and dull. Another set-back for Ms. Thomas is her thematic style of lyricism, a part of the formula that begins with the first song and ends with the last, and this approach makes the pulse so straight and weak that the listener couldn't be more impressed by one song over another on this record. In fact, you've literally heard the record after one song. For example, "Crazy/Crazy is what they've all said/Craziness lives in my head/Craziness lies in my bed," "One more day/Just one more day then I'm done/One more car ride and/One more rising of the sun," "I've been waiting all my life/I've been waiting for you to come/I've been traveling and wandering alone/On my own for too long," and "You and Me/Me and you/There's so much that we've been through/Through it all I've come to understand God's love," the lyrics to "Crazy", "One More Day", "All My Life", and "You and Me"…and these songs are back to back as I quoted them from the album (yawn).

After the final song "Dialogue", I'm still waiting to laugh and I don't feel as though I won anything except a drowsy-head-cold experience that wasn't that fun (only mildly entertaining), so where's the laughter? Where's the life lesson? The only thing found in this record is a woman with a beautiful voice who thinks she's a songwriter. I wish Rosie Thomas a lighter take on life, a bigger vocabulary, and lessons in delivery to match her voice and musicianship, for without those she'll continue to make dull records like "Only With Laughter Can You Win" and nobody would wish that on anybody.