The Fire Theft begins where Sunny Day Real Estate ends . . . actually, long before that. Like Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods for human use, The Fire Theft reaches back far beyond the ’90s-era SDRE, boldly attempting to snatch flames from rock gods The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zep, The Who, Brian Wilson. Like Sunny Day Real Estate, The Fire Theft’s molten core is Jeremy Enigk and William Goldsmith, natives of Seattle’s eastside who have been musical partners since their punk teen years; Enigk is the anguished poetic lyricist, whose kite-high vocals are anchored by the pummeling, earthy drumming of Goldsmith. Formed in 1992, Sunny Day was one of the first bands tagged with the now-ubiquitous “emo” label; SDRE released five critically acclaimed albums that developed legions of passionate followers. The on-again, off-again band split for good in 2002, and now Enigk and Goldsmith are re-joined in Fire Theft by Nate Mendel, a founding SDRE member who left to join Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters (Goldsmith was also in Grohl’s crew for a few years.)
Those who assume The Fire Theft is simply a repackaged, re-named Sunny Day Real Estate will be massively mistaken. The Fire Theft’s self-titled debut album is a staggering leap forward for the members, particularly Enigk; long-time SDRE disciples – and there are plenty of them, and they spend hours debating “hidden meanings” – may or may not climb aboard for this journey; while some might be disappointed and confused by the differences, those who can handle change will be exhilarated.
Produced by Brad Wood (Smashing Pumpkins, Red Red Meat, early Liz Phair, Tortoise, SDRE) “The Fire Theft” is a place where bleak visions stew, desperately searching for a crack of light: desperation divided by desire. “A lot of times, it’s really dark,” says Enigk, “but the album takes a turn for the hopeful.” No longer the wunderkind of the Seattle rock scene, Enigk is now in his late 20s, and the maturity shows in his refined songwriting, consistently adventurous and courageous, constantly calling out his demons.
The album is launched by “Uncle Mountain,” soaring, intense, shades of Pink Floyd and Led Zep’s “Physical Graffiti.” A brief piano interlude cleanses the palate for the hypnotic “Oceans Apart,” which on closer listen deals some disturbing double meanings: “raise your arms/we’ll lift the sky.” After “Chain” (“straight-ahead, to the jugular,” says Enigk), the playful jam “Backwards Blues” calls forth the Beatles. “Magical Mystery Tour” also echoes through “Summertime,” where a blue sky is soon darkened by Goldsmith’s ominous drumming, and the tone in Enigk’s voice starts to ricochet between nostalgia and dread, as he struggles to “lift back the veil that hides you from me.”
From The Beatles, The Fire Theft naturally drifts to Brian Wilson for “Houses,” a blissful romp fueled by a string quartet and rippling, poolside lines and a comical conclusion: “I thought that I was crazy/all along it was just a girl.” Perhaps the gem of the powerful album is “Heaven,” which begins as a pretty piano tune, builds just slightly on Mendel’s looming bass -- then explodes into a wall of noise, Enigk’s guitar and Goldsmith’s drums laying sonic catharsis.
The album’s closer is “Sinatra,” a Who-inspired epic with constant, jarring changes. “It’s probably the peak of the record,” Enigk says, gazing out his front door into the setting sun. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, depression, feelings of guilt on the album. ‘Sinatra’ is an epiphany, the realization that you can release yourself from your mind . . . It’s definitely the boldest lyrics I’ve written – I had to dig deep, and it was painful. Now I know what I need to do to be a man.”