I always figured this would be Thursday's 'make or break' album. Though they put forward a strong attempt with War All the Time, it wasn't able to match the all-around intensity and drive that made them so incredibly popular with Full Collapse. I thought if they weren't able to do it with this release, they never would, and would soon fade off into a list of bands that had a strong foundation but never grew into their own voice. Fortunately for Thursday, A City by the Light Divided buries any idea that this band can't reinvent themselves. This seems to be the record the band tried to make with War All the Time, but wasn't ready to.
This isn't an album to be judged by a song. Sure, there are some on here that could be labeled as the best songs Thursday have written (the haunting "Sugar in the Sacrament" or the ferocious "Into the Blinding Light"), but in order to really appreciate how far the band has come since the days of Waiting, this has to be a record listened to front-to-back.
Musically, this is gold. It is simultaneously Thursday's most diverse collection of songs as well as their most coherent. The production of Dave Fridmann (weezer, The Flaming Lips) is well done, but I'd say at times is a little too obvious; the introduction to "Telegraph Avenue Kiss" is great, but I wonder about the ability to reproduce a few of these songs live. Production aside, this album manages to feature the melodic ("Running from the Rain"), the poppy ("Counting 5-4-3-2-1"), and the intense ("At This Velocity"), and still sound like a singluar piece of art.
One of the biggest debates about Thursday has always been lead vocalist Geoff Rickly. He's obviously been practicing, because the vocal range on Divided is great. From the unrelenting "The Other Side of the Crash" to the soft comforting vocals on the sparse introduction to "The Lovesong Writer," Rickly has never been this good. Lyrically, I felt War All the Time to be weak at times, and while Divided doesn't feel as lyrically dominant as Full Collapse, parts like the end of the epic "Autumn Leaves Revisited" showcase Rickly's talent of writing desperate music with an undying sense of hope;
There must be somewhere that cigarettes burn through the night and leaves don't abandon their trees to the light, the sky is always clear and the summer never ends. Won't you take me there?All praise aside, I don't think this is a perfect record. While Rickly's vocals are better, they're not at an expert level, and in some songs I can hear the familiar strain of passion and tension in his voice, whereas at times on the record it sounds methodical and practiced. "We Will Overcome" seems almost forced, almost too reserved. As gorgeous as "Autumn Leaves Revisited" is, I enjoyed the aggressive quality from the demo that was leaked on to the internet months ago. Obviously you cannot fault a band over their recording choices and leaked material, that's just a bit of personal opinion in there.
Many times when a band releases a record that is radically new and different from their traditional sound, it divides fans and risks losing the foundation that built the band to begin with (with labelmates Thrice being a good example). With A City by the Light Divided, I would say the band has released an album that not only will prove themselves to their oldest fans, but also invite those that wrote them off as a half-talented emo band to think again. I started listening to Thursday when I was 17; now, at 23, the band is able to remind me why I initially loved them, as well as showing they're growing musically, as well.
This is a great release for Thursday, and I'd say that they no longer have to worry about besting Full Collapse. Unfortunately, for a band that set the bar so high on themselves once and have now done it again, they've got a big challenge in making an album better than this. Until then, I'd expect this to be making rounds on quite a few "Best Of" lists come the end of the year.