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Thursday, ‘War All the Time’ (Island)

Geoff Rickly really, really doesn’t want to work in an office. Thursday’s singer–who looks like Ziggy from The Wire and sings like Ben Folds after a particularly messy breakup–sees cubicle-bound Americans as dreamless drones. In “For the Workforce, Drowning,” from his band’s major-label debut, he imagines them pleading: “Touch me, please someone / Teach me how to swim!”

That may sound a little bombastic, but emo has never been about subtlety, and Thursday are nothing if not faithful to the genre’s gospel of full, even maudlin, disclosure. Rickly indulges sentiments such as “Every bird in mid-flight is calling out your name / Before it hits the window”;”Rupture the wall I’ve built around my heart”; and “We can’t compete with martyred saints.” On every song, Thursday ch-ch-chunk like a damaged Metallica CD, and Rickly fills each open moment with starved romanticism.

Yet, at his best, he’s less concerned with his fallen heart than with the sorry state of our union. The album’s title track is a “We Didn’t Start the Fire” for suburban kids with South Jersey accents. Rickly masterfully weaves a childhood tragedy into a tale of lost innocence in the shadows of the New York City skyline, ruefully declaring, “We grew up too fast.” An a cappella children’s chorus answers, “On and on and on and on,” someone screams “Aaah!” and the band come thundering back, as if they were transforming an all-ages cinderblock basement into a secular church.

The album’s artier tracks–the piano-driven “Steps Ascending” and the numerous songs with intramural electronic freak-outs–will probably enervate longtime fans who worry that major-label cash is clouding their heroes’ worldview. But you only have to listen to the way the “Peter Gunn” guitars of “Division Street” bleed into Rickly warning, “This is serious!” to know these guys pack enough passion to knock you into the middle of next week.