The gap between my desire to like Thievery Corporation and my actual opinion of Thievery Corporation is enormous. Nothing is more enjoyable than perfect, down-tempo, world-influenced music. Massive Attack was once my favorite band, and their dark, beat-driven tracks were the template for my musical taste. When Thievery Corporation hit (relatively) big in 2000 with its second LP, The Mirror Conspiracy, I thought I had found a perfect group to fill the late-night martini-drinking niche. And I’ve been trying to fit this square peg into that round hole ever since.
Thievery Corporation’s Rob Garza and Eric Hilton have not been entirely unsuccessful in their pursuits. Even 2002’s The Richest Man in Babylon had its pluses. But like the guest-appearance-friendly The Cosmic Game, their fourth proper full-length, The Richest Man in Babylon often descended into something less than even the background music you would hope for from this dinner-party-turned-deejay team.
The Cosmic Game finds Garza and Hilton coasting along, but this time they’re joined by such notables as Perry Farrell, David Byrne and the Flaming Lips. Like most down-tempo electronic acts of late, the group has also been expanded to accommodate a great number of live musicians and original produced music, but the adjustment hasn’t helped to remove any of the dull sheen that covers the music here.
Occasionally a good song pops out, including opener “Marching the Hate Machines (Into the Sun)” with the Flaming Lips, or the closing instrumental “A Gentle Dissolve.” But most of the music blurs together into one long reggae-psychedelic rip-off (do we really need songs called “Doors of Perception” and “Holographic Universe?”). Thievery Corporation has become so average that it is impossible to even dislike this music. It isn’t good, it isn’t bad, it isn’t even non-threatening enough to hate it for being non-threatening. Put it in an elevator or a supermarket and I won’t want to kill myself like the shit I usually hear makes me want to do. But keep it out of my stereo.