Have you ever imagined what a French take on American grunge rock would sound like? Me neither but the answer has come to us courtesy of Parisian band TALIA and their latest full length release Thugs They Look Like Angels. TALIA may have originated in Paris but have since relocated to Los Angeles where they quickly nabbed a spot opening for Soul Asylum who wrote the inescapable (whether you liked it or not) ‘90s single “Runaway Train.”
TALIA’s love for the sound of the mid- to late-‘90s is worn on their sleeves (sleeves of jackets purchased from ARMY Surplus I can only assume). Several tracks are built upon Alice Thomas’s bass lines which owe a debt to Kim Deal, Hervé Goardou’s drums plod and hammer the tried-and-true rhythms of disillusionment, and Nicolas Costa’s vocals are suitably gravelly. Yet, from the very opening of lead-off track “American Bride”, it’s very clear that we’re not listening to a band from the ‘90s. Everything that has happened in mainstream rock between 1998 and now has seeped into TALIA’s sound, adding a weird radio-friendly upbeat undercurrent that prevents Thugs They Look Like Angels from ever sounding self-loathing. And let’s face it, the best aspect of ‘90s alternative rock was the self-loathing. It was often unintentionally funny but what could appeal more to a teenage sensibility than a song called “I Hate Myself and Want to Die”? The closest TALIA gets are titles like “Play Dead” that sounds upbeat in a manic Pixies sort of way or “Self-Induced Fever” that would be at home alongside anything by the Goo Goo Dolls.
Reviews that just compare bands to other bands always seem like shit but TALIA don’t bring a lot to the table that wouldn’t sound somewhat at home sandwiched between generic rock tracks of 1997 on the radio. To their credit, they’re best on livelier tracks such as “It’s Been Oh So Long” or the bouncy, blues-inflected “Dog Blood.” But throughout the 10 tracks of Thugs They Look Like Angels, TALIA varies their rhythms and melodies but never once manages a surprise. The upside of that is that if you enjoy “American Bride”, you’ll equally like the rest of the album. But if you’re not sold within a minute of the opening track, TALIA won’t woo you with their other valentines to grunge rock tainted with traces of the modern mainstream.