Big Wreck - Grace Street - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Big Wreck - Grace Street

by James Weiskittel Rating:9 Release Date:2017-02-03

When Big Wreck quietly disbanded in 2002, and the band’s creative force Ian Thornley decided to continue under the solo moniker Thornley, fans of the Canadian Alt-Prog outfit collectively began to realize that they didn’t quite know what they had until it was gone.  That isn’t necessarily an indictment on the two Thornley releases (2004’s Come Again and 2009’s Tiny Pictures) which are more than adequate rock releases in their own right, but rather, a resounding affirmation of the staying power and posthumous cult adoration of his previous band’s work.  The bottom line is that while few took notice when 1997’s In Loving Memory Of and 2001’s The Pleasure and the Greed (save for a minor radio hit or two) were released, the records have been discovered (and re-discovered) more and more with each passing year.

And thus, those same fans rejoiced when Thornley reunited with former guitarist Brian Doherty and decided to don the Big Wreck moniker once again for 2012’s Albatross.  Throw in two more solid releases (2014’s Ghosts and last year’s Ian Fletcher Thornley solo record), and you’d be hard pressed to fault Thornley and Co’s work ethic, a point further cemented by their latest release Grace Street.  

Over the course of the album’s thirteen tracks, the band embraces the art of ‘ebb and flow’ like never before, touching upon each of their previous releases while also breaking some decidedly new ground.  There’s a little bit of everything here, with more standard fare like the infectiously tuneful “One Good Piece of Me” and the funk inspired “You Don’t Even Know” rounded out with everything from country-tinged folk (“The Receiving End”) to heartfelt ballads (“Useless").  That’s not to say that Grace Street doesn’t rock because the album certainly flexes its muscles on the soon-to-be-live staples like “Digging In” and “The Arbortist”.  It’s just that when the band decides to take a detour, they fully commit to the journey.

While one of the band’s strengths has always been frontman Ian Thornley's penchant for a ‘heart-on-the-sleeve’ lyrical approach, Grace Street takes things to the ‘enth degree.  With songs like opener “It Comes as No Surprise” and the grandiose “A Speedy Recovery”, Thornley’s (whose powerful voice continues to defy his age) prose has taken on a cinematically confessional point of view, anchoring the sometimes lofty musical ambitions of the band with a disarming sincerity.

In fact, the only real knock against Grace Street might be the album’s sixty-eight-minute running time.  While at first the album feels focused and poignant, the back-half tends to meander a bit, even threatening to overstay its welcome at points.  But this is a minor gripe at best, and there may admittedly be an artistic purpose to the sheer magnitude of Grace Street that is only fully understood with repeated listens.

No longer concerned with re-introducing themselves to the world, Grace Street is the work of an inspired band stretching out into the second act of their career.  While the record isn’t flawless (the seven-minute instrumental “Skybunk Marche” may be guilty of being more fun to perform than it is to listen to), Grace Street’s reach is more often than not met by its grasp.  While it remains to be seen where the record will ultimately sit in the personal rankings of longtime fans, at the very least it immediately succeeds in showing off a different side of Big Wreck; an impressive feat for anyone let alone a band five records in.

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