In the fall of 2008 I was introduced to The Thermals by the radio station KURE. The song was “A Pillar of Salt” off of The Body, the Blood, the Machine, and I was instantly hooked. I’ve surely listened to that song over a thousand times since then. It makes the cut on every single playlist I make (along with Erasure’s “A Little Respect“) and I can’t recommend that album, and specifically that song, enough.
So it is with great remorse that I have to write this review for an album that lets me down at almost every turn. That isn’t to say Personal Life is a bad record. I actually like parts of it quite a bit.
I’m referring to Personal Life as The Thermals’ So Much For the Afterglow. If you remember that Everclear record at all, I think you’ll understand my point. On the surface it seems like everything you would expect from the band, but it isn’t. There’s a certain something just not right with it as a whole.
What’s missing is the visceral energy of their past albums. The Thermals are at their best attacking things like politics and religion, and that doesn’t happen on this release.
Turning the focus inward and writing songs having more to do with personal musings on intimacy and life is a good thing for bands to do every once in a while. It’s an important part of letting the listener know where the band is coming from, and allows us to understand the music a little better. Putting out ten tracks in a row is a bit much for me, though.
One thing that the record gets right is the consistent sound. If you’ve listened to a Thermals record at any point in their career, you know that they have a very recognizable sonic element that runs through all of their music. Almost to a fault they adhere to the same concept on this record, all fuzzy guitar work and banging drums with a lot of cymbal crashes and fills. The vocals remain the strongest aspect of their sound, on this album a mix of accusatory snark and longing.
The lyrics remain smart and honest on Personal Life. The song “Alone, a Fool” is only a few lines long (and sounds a bit too much like a lot of songs on Liz Phair‘s Exile in Guyville), but it is a good example of the kind of material dealt with on the album:
When i have you near, when i have you near i’m alone
When i have you close, i miss you the most i’m alone
I have you in the past, long at the memories will last
When i’m by myself, you’re with someone else i’m a fool
When i’m by your side, i’m nowhere in your mind, i’m a fool
You’re always in my head, you’re always in my head, i’m a fool
I may be a bit harsh in calling this album a disappointment. I was so looking forward to an album as good as The Body, the Blood, the Machine and this just wasn’t it. The Thermals have put out five albums in the last seven years, so I know I won’t have to wait too long before they put out another release that will get my hopes up. Next time I won’t let them get so high.
- The Thermals hail from Portland, Oregon and is: Hutch Harris (vocals/guitar), Kathy Foster (bass/vocals) and Westin Glass (drums/vocals).
- Personal Life is available on BuyOlympia.com for $12 (LP + mp3s) or $13 (CD).
- The Thermals will perform live at Logan Square Auditorium on October 3. Tickets are $15.
“I Don’t Believe You” official music video