By Ché Salgado
Artist: Thomas Cohen
Album: Bloom Forever
Released: May 6, 2016
Label: Stolen Recordings
The 2010s for Thomas Cohen have been a decade of ups and downs. He rose to prominence along with his band, S.C.U.M., in 2010 and spent 2011 playing shows with the likes of Portishead while being signed to the storied Mute Records, the same label their post-punk forebears Wire were on. In 2012, he married Peaches Geldof and started a family but things began to fall apart in 2013 when S.C.U.M. broke up and worse in 2014 when Peaches was found dead in their Wrotham home. She had died of a heroin overdose. Since then, Thomas has laid low. It seemed he had run his course in the limelight. He had his brush with fame and it ended in disarray and tragedy. But if there’s anything that Thomas Cohen has spent the last five years trying to prove, it’s that he’s not a flash in the pan. He’s no pretender, he is and will continue to be a legitimate fixture in the music world. And so to prove this, coming up from the depths of his decline, Thomas Cohen gives up Bloom Forever, the best album of his career so far.
Breaking with the synth-heavy post-punk of his S.C.U.M. days, Cohen offers us a singer-songwriter sort of record. Nothing here is like “Whitechapel,” his previous group’s 2011 single. It has more in common with After the Gold Rush or Blood on the Tracks than with New Order or The Horrors, the latter being a group that S.C.U.M. spent their entire career being compared to, much to their annoyance. Cohen offers us a record that speaks bluntly about his post-S.C.U.M., post-Peaches days. In fact, the album almost provides a chronological narrative to Cohen’s life with songs supposedly spanning 2013 to the present.
You can guess what track one, “Honeymoon” deals with, a track apparently about the newlywed couple depending on each other (“holding on to each other”) in the wake of the breakup of S.C.U.M. and in the middle of a heroin addiction.
The next track, the title track, with its chorus of “living/together/bloom/forever” could, were it not for the circumstances, be seen as a sweet ode to settling down, to married life, but the context just renders it tragic and bleak, a feeling that’s amplified by the fifth track, “Country House.” If the first few tracks were tracks dealing with Cohen’s new life amidst the fallout surrounding the breakup of S.C.U.M., this track is the first clearly about the death of Peaches Geldof. When you consider it’s stricken lyrics in contrast to the earlier tracks about newfound home life, it’s just bleak, absolutely bleak. In addition to reframing the songs on the record that precede it, the song acts as a microcosm for the album itself. Emblazoned on the cover of Bloom Forever is Thomas Cohen in clothes only he could pull off. He proves that even in grief, you can’t take away his style, and the same is true with the songs here. Even grieving, Cohen is revving his output to fever pitch.
But something is noticeably different. Cohen is a widower now, a single father of two and being the snarky, cynical frontman that he was in S.C.U.M. isn’t something he can afford to do anymore, his world can’t do with much more cynicism. In his first solo outing and with “Country Home,” Cohen, with a painful resignation, showcases his forced transformation from post-punk scenester to matured father. If not for his sake than for the sake of his kids, the clearest reminder of his former life with Peaches.
Ultimately, with Bloom Forever, Cohen has created an album that clearly distances himself from his S.C.U.M. days without losing anything of value. Compared to the songs here, S.C.U.M. really can’t compete. But the credit doesn’t fall solely on Cohen. The real stars of this record are the musicians that have been recruited to fill in the empty space with their prowess. This is clear on a number of tracks but none more than on the best track here, “Morning Fall.” The eloquent keyboards are reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” the drumming is beautiful and calm, the hints of electric guitar accentuate the chords, the bass is limber and keeps away from just hitting root notes. If Thomas Cohen gets credit for writing these songs, these musicians ought to get credit for making them shine and pushing Bloom Forever to be a great record rather than what could have been just Thomas Cohen’s mediocre solo debut.