t first glance, Please Come Home is a typical singer-songwriter record. The black-and-white artwork is deliberately retro. The tracklist is on the front cover. Stark photos depict Dustin Kensrue backlit by lens flare from streetlamps. It screams Greenwich Village, 1963.
But Kensrue is the singer for Thrice. He’s spent most of his career screaming his head off. The band came up in the fertile ’90s Orange County metal and hardcore punk scene. Their first three albums were taut, melodic metalcore that mixed Swedish metal with emo. Vheissu departed from their template for deep, organic grooves à la Isis and Tool, with textural shades of Radiohead, resulting in one of 2005’s finest albums.
When their drummer hurt his back in 2003, Thrice resorted to a few unplugged shows, so Kensrue’s acoustic turn shouldn’t be a complete surprise. What is, though, is how twangy it is. These aren’t the “metal songs played quietly” bands used to hack out for MTV’s Unplugged; Kensrue has entered the realm of Bruce Springsteen and Ryan Adams.
The transformation isn’t entirely convincing. Kensrue’s voice never drove Thrice, the arrangements did. Backed only by acoustic guitar, occasional keyboards, drums, and electric guitar, his voice is much more exposed—pleasant, but it lacks gravitas. This is an earnest record, and Kensrue is an earnest man (as with all Thrice albums, 5% of the proceeds from Please Come Home will go to charity). But the way his throaty growls try to connote “sincerity” isn’t far off from Nickelback or Creed.
Musically, the record hits all the genre’s requisites. There’s the chugging train number (in both faster Johnny Cash and slower Bob Dylan varieties), the harmonica-driven campfire anthem, the loping Beatles blues, the sensitive-guy strummer, and so on. The execution is so perfect that it’s bland. Kensrue admirably captures the sound of yesteryear with some catchy choruses. But the songs are frictionless; little more than Friday night coffeehouse fare.
Strong lyrics could make up for limited vocal range and harmonic palette, but Kenrue’s are a mixed bag. Rhythmically, they fit the music well. But his themes are simplistic—love for Jesus (“I Believe,” “Consider the Ravens”), the prodigal son (“Please Come Home”), the good girl gone bad (“I Knew You Before”). The latter is amazingly straightforward: “You dream of sharing your heart / Instead you share your bed / And your heart beats empty and cold / With all the tears that you have shed.” The closest he comes to poetry is “Pistol,” where he compares his girl to a gun that shoots him “straight and true.” Ironically, he says, “Honey, I feel so safe around you.” Please Come Home says what it means, with sounds to match—sometimes though, that just doesn’t cut it.