The Thermals: Personal Life Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Personal Life by The Thermals.
Chris Besinger (STNNNG)
Prior to listening to this record all I knew about the Thermals was that they had terrible album covers. Now I can report that they also play bland and by-the-numbers “punk music”. Every song is hooky in that vague, abstract way all pop-punk is, that slips into your brain like a virus and later you find yourself humming it without being able to recall where you heard it. Every song the singer guy bares his emotions in plain lyrics that are ultimately unaffecting. Every song has the same flat production value. And every single damn song on this thing has the title for the chorus.
Nothing on this record is egregiously terrible, it’s just boring and in a way that’s even worse. Because, if the music isn’t life-affirming or life-negating or nasty or giddy or embarrassing or incredible or whatever, then why bother wasting anyone’s time? No one would be offended by this record, my mom could probably get down with this album, which is fine, but I don’t really want my mom to be digging on the same rock albums that I do. And I’m not suggesting that offending the listener should be a goal, but if no one is offended, then no one is excited either.
At the very least it is short, so that’s something.
Mojo Marshall (Switchblade Comb)
The Thermals aren’t exactly breaking the mold on their sound for Personal Life. But with a winning formula maybe that’s a good thing. The Thermals reminds me of the Ramones’ in that way: High energy, fast, fuzzy, simple, fun, and most of all pretty consistent over their discography. The main noticeable change I hear on Personal Life over their previous albums is the songs sound more, uh, well, personal. Hutch Harris appears wiser and more patient as he sings about love, success, loss, betrayal, triumph, failure, and growth. Personal Life is a solid record that shouldn’t disappoint most Thermals fans and may just pick up a few new ones along the way.
Kyle Matteson (Twitter)
The Thermal’s fifth album ‘Personal Life’ won’t come as a big surprise to anyone who is familiar with their back catalog. It’s a tight collection of 10 pop/punk songs with their usual incredibly catchy refrains. They brought Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla back to produce the record, just as he did their sophomore album ‘Fuckin A’, but overall the production doesn’t really deviate from their past few records much. I can’t imagine this album winning over too many people who haven’t cared for them in the past or finding too many new fans, but I also feel like if you like what The Thermals do then chances are you’ll enjoy this record to varying degrees.
Matt Linden (Reviler)
With four frenzied, simplistic and youthful albums under their belt, did you really expect the Portland-based punkers The Thermals to drastically change up their formula on their newest offering Personal Life? At this point, if they were to tone it down it would just be a slap in the face. When you hear about a new album from The Thermals you know what you’re getting yourself into. That’s not to say that the band doesn’t throw a few curveballs in the mix here, but for the most part these tracks are served up just the way we like them: fast-as-hell, full of big hooks and delivered with an enlarged heart-on-sleeve. But for front man Hutch Harris, as indicated in the album’s name, this outing is, well, a more personal affair on more levels than their last two efforts. The first being the concept album about a couple fleeing the U.S. from fascist faux-Christians on The Body, The Blood, The Machine and then the philosophical-leaning Now We Can See. The lyrical content on Personal Lifecertainly stems from experiences Harris has gone through in the past, present and probable future. This is clear in song titles like album opener “I’m Gonna Change Your Life” as well as “Never Listen to Me,” “Not Life Any Other Feeling” and “You Changed My Life.” The most notable difference in the band’s overall sound is a more subtle approach instead of banging out tracks as hard and fast as they possibly can. They show a little more restraint and allow Harris’ lyricism come to the forefront – which is may not mesh well with fans of their earlier work. There is a softer, gentler side to this record that takes precedent, whereas on early albums we would only see glimpses of that said style. “Your Love is So Strong,” though, backed by its classic Thermal “Ohh-wee-ohhs” is a true to form one-off. For me, The Thermal’s are the kind of band that are very likeable because they are completely free of pretensions. They aren’t simple for simple’s sake nor do they try and stuff their statements down any throats. They take what they see, lay it out in front of us and let us borrow whatever we wish. And it’s their take-it-or-leave-it attitude that makes The Thermals so refreshing and needed in today’s indie scene – a scene where it sometimes seems like sweating the small stuff is the only thing we have to live for. If you can dig that, you’ll dig this record. And everything will be just fine.
Writer / co-founder