Peak: #11 [Modern Rock]
“Thrash Unreal” calls bullshit on every promise of transcendence that rock music has ever made. Then it jams those lies so hard that they ring momentarily true. Like a harsher version of Bowling for Soup’s “1985,” or a more secular and less sentimental distillation of the Hold Steady’s oeuvre, Tom Gabel’s somberly defiant party anthem worms its way into the desperation and regret of a rocker chick aging past her sexual prime with a show of empathy that few songwriters would expend on women they’re not out to fuck.
Like “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” or “Glory Days,” “Thrash Unreal” acknowledges that rock and roll’s temporary escape from the everyday may feel more necessary than ever come middle-age. But where Seger and Springsteen tempered their grown-up blues with a what’cha-gonna-do shrug, Gabel stands stolidly outside the good times. He takes upon himself to depict the life of the woman he sings about with a seriousness she’s too much in need of a chance to cut loose to risk herself. It’s Gabel, nor she, who observes, “No mother ever dreams that her daughter’s gonna grow up to be a junkie/ No mother ever dreams that her daughter’s gonna grow up to sleep alone.”
Well. You know how Greil Marcus testifies that he has to drop to his knees in adoration whenever he hears the opening drumbeat to “Like a Rolling Stone”? (I may be paraphrasing there.) My own tastes are far less apocalyptic–I appreciate reality enough that I don’t require that its fabric be rent asunder every time I press “play.” But that couplet, declaimed in such an earnest hardcore-dude voice you can practically hear the strain of Gabel’s neck muscles, stops me dead every time. And yet it wouldn’t work if the boys didn’t chant “ba ba ba/ ba ba babadada” cornily in the background, if the guitars and drums weren’t hitched to such a conventional rock chorus. Transcendence can be funny that way.