Dan Bejar has always been gifted when it comes to lyrics, but an appropriate musical backing for his early Destroyer records seemed like an afterthought. The City Of Daughters album is held back by short grating instrumentals and the overall sense he's being obtuse and clever just to be obtuse and clever; his albums before that were rough and forgettable things, semi-obscure and best left that way. Streethawk: A Seduction, then, is considered his first true success, a rich record with purposeful and catchy songwriting, though I think this praise also belongs to Thief. Released the same year as the breakthrough debut of The New Pornographers, Destroyer's Thief can't help but sound like a reaction to that band. Perhaps it merely inspired Bejar to care more about melodies and hooks. Either way, sprinkling some classic rock and singer/songwriter influences on his music produced a record that contained songwriting and melodies as beguiling and original as the lyrical voice always had been.
What promise was hinted at on City Of Daughters and earlier is, here, finally achieved. Some have suggested that Thief is also a reaction to Bejar's lack of success, but it's be hard to tell if he's serious or not with his criticisms and witty abstractions on tracks like 'Destroyer's The Temple' and the Pink Floyd nodding 'To The Heart Of The Sun, On The Back Of The Vulture I'll Go.' I always get the feeling Bejar is more interested in how words sound together and the kind of feelings and imagery they can evoke, so any meaning in his songs is up to the listener. Yet there's enough commentary and witticisms about the music business, cryptic as they might be, that he must be attempting to say something, a goal few or none of his other releases share, making Thief a bit of a unique bird for that reason alone.
If there's a chief weakness to Thief, it's that whenever the band gets up to roaring energy on rockers like 'Canadian Lover/Falcon's Escape' and the surf-pop sounding 'City Of Daughters', they always merely smolder when they should burn. I'm not sure if this is the same band used on the Destroyer's Rubies and Trouble In Dreams albums, but by that point the Destroyer band was capable of burning with the best. Thief, on the other hand, feels detached and half-committed: are these songs of sincerity and energy, or irony and apathy?
It could be that this question doesn't matter when applied to Destroyer, yet there's a nagging notion in the back of my head that knows, as much as I like Thief, it's a dress rehearsal for Streethawk: A Seduction, an album superior in every way because it's more relaxed and fun. Bejar has something to prove on it, whereas on Thief he merely has something to say. This could explain the album's weak second half, the anti-climactic title track, and overall lack of focus (those pointless instrumentals and experimental tracks from City Of Daughters still rear their heads), yet I'll still stick up for Thief as the first wholly enjoyable Destroyer album, one that has something to say and says it well more often than not.