I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
The Throbs - "The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds"
DGC Records, 1991
10 tracks, run time: 50:30
The glam/sleaze rock movement of the late '80s and early '90s tends to be associated with Los Angeles, but New York City had a fairly robust hard rock scene of its own at the time. Many New York based bands like Law & Order, Circus of Power, Warrior Soul, the Cycle Sluts from Hell, and Spread Eagle (to name just a few) landed major record deals during the era, but none of them managed to break out in a big way like their L.A. counterparts.
One of the better New York bands of the period was also one of the shortest-lived: The Throbs, who released their debut album, The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds, before quickly vanishing.
Until recently, I had only the vaguest memory of this band. When Language... came out in 1991, I was still in the midst of my all-thrash-metal, all-the-time phase and wasn't paying attention to so-called "glam" bands. However, one of my college friends happened to catch a Throbs gig at a local club (I believe it was L'amour in Brooklyn, NY), and he was so blown away by them that he tried to sell me on them for several weeks afterward. My reaction was something like, "The 'Throbs'? What kind of stupid name is that? The singer calls himself 'Sweetheart'? Yeah, no thanks. I'll be over here listening to Overkill and Sepultura if you need me." (My narrow minded, if-it-ain't-metal-then-it's-crap elitist attitude did eventually erode with time, by the way.)
I didn't think about The Throbs again till nearly 30 years later, when I came across a near-mint CD copy of The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds in a thrift shop. It turned out to be one of my better blind buys -- Language's sinister, almost Gothic take on the sleaze rock sound made it an instant keeper. Better late than never, right? (Ernesto, if by some chance you're reading this: you were right about these guys. I should've listened to you thirty years ago. )
"Come Down Sister"
So Who the Heck Were The Throbs, Anyway?
The Throbs' mainman was vocalist Ronnie "Sweetheart" Collie, a Toronto native who'd once played guitar in a band with a pre-Skid Row Sebastian Bach. An early, all-Canadian version of The Throbs released a mini-LP in 1986 called Proud To Be Loud before they imploded.
By 1988 Ronnie had relocated to New York, hooked up with guitarist Roger Ericson, bassist Danny Nordhal, and drummer Ronnie Magri to form the "new" Throbs. They kicked around the NYC scene for a couple of years, landed a deal with the David Geffen Company, and recorded The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds with famed Alice Cooper/Kiss producer Bob Ezrin. Despite rave reviews for the album, many of which predicted that the Throbs would be "New York's answer to Guns N' Roses," Geffen dropped the band just six months after the album's release. Ouch!
The Throbs bore some stylistic similarities to then-current British retro rockers like the Quireboys and the Dogs D'Amour (especially in their thrift-shop chic fashions, consisting of lots of paisley, patterned scarves, flared pants, n' pointy boots) but The Throbs were greasier and more sinister, with one foot in raggedy, New York Dolls-esque heroin-chic glam punk and the other in vintage Alice Cooper-town. (Sweetheart's raspy vocal style is actually very similar to early Coop.)
The album's slow burning opener "Underground" is so "New York" that you can practically smell the garbage and the hobos. This track drops the listener off in a bad part of town in the middle of the night, with all manner of lowlifes crawling out of the shadows. The tempo picks up with the grinding sleaze of "Come Down Sister" and the Stones-ish stomp of "It's Not the End of the World," before crashing into the dark 'n epic ballad "Dreamin'."
The twangy "Honeychild" shines a brief bit of light into the Throbs' dark world, and the peppy blues of "Rip It Up" sets the stage for "Ocean of Love," a grinding rocker that may be my favorite track on the album. "Only Way Out" has some seriously Sixties vibes and an irresistible chorus, while the grungy"Sweet Addiction" has crunch and attitude to spare. The straight-ahead "Ecstasy" returns to Rolling Stones territory again, and even features an out-of-nowhere guest appearance by the great Little Richard (!) on piano. The hard rockin' "Strange Behavior" closes out the proceedings with a heavy Alice Cooper vibe.
In short, The Throbs were definitely onto something on this album, but unfortunately by the time they got to the major-label party, the sun was already setting on the glam/sleaze movement. If The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds had been released a year or two earlier, things might have turned out different for them.
Whatever Happened to The Throbs?
A belated follow up to Language, appropriately titled Second, was quietly released digitally in 2004. I have never heard Second (in fact, I was not aware of its existence till I started doing research for this article!) and details about it have been hard to find online, but apparently the tracks for Second were recorded in 1992, but were shelved when the band broke up.
In response to its continued cult following, The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds was remastered and re-issued in 2007 by the archive specialists at Rock Candy Records. The Rock Candy edition of the CD features two bonus tracks, "Rainbow" and "The Queen of Borrowed Lights."
Several of the Throbs' band members remain active in the music scene to this day, and they apparently still get together for a reunion gig every now and then.
They never got their due back in the day, the Throbs were definitely a bad ass band, and The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds deserves a place in every sleaze-rock aficionado's collection.
© 2021 Keith Abt