Their last time out, on Now We Can See, The Thermals began to steer away from their conversations regarding art and politics. They introduced a bit more of their personal worlds into their songwriting. For the most part, they stick to these new tactics on Personal Life, using the title to indicate the album’s lyrical subject matter.
“I’m Gonna Change Your Life” kicks things off with that distorted guitar and bass, including Hutch’s vocals. While the song definitely has a bit of that soft/loud complexity, it doesn’t have quite the same fury that one associates with the group’s previous efforts. It’s not until “I Don’t Believe You” pummels you in the face that you completely recognize the old energetic band you probably adored since day one. You’ll find monosyllabic “oohs” throughout the track as well, a long trademark of Hutch and Kathy.
As the record creeps along, you begin to realize that changing subject matter also means a change in the overall approach to writing the accompanying music. “Never Listen to Me” has this bubbling bassline that walks you through the entire song, but once again, the urgency is absent. This might be disheartening for some, especially those longtime fans of The Thermals, but you’ll soon realize that even these slower numbers have some special moments, such as Hutch’s cutting guitar working its way in and out of the track. Similarly, “Power Lies” takes a back seat to the regular pace, even though the song seems to contain remnants of olden days, or at least the ability to unleash. Still, one of the things that you’ll notice as you go through this collection is that repeated listens don’t wear you down, and the slower pacing allows for more depth somehow. These songs aren’t hitting you over the head in a hurry, so the odds are you’ll come back, able to keep rocking out to Personal Life time and time again.
There are some odd moves too, or at least those that will come across unexpected. “Alone, A Fool” is basically an acoustic guitar strummed with Hutch’s vocals doing the majority of the hard work. Even though it is one of the shortest tracks to grace the record, for some reason, it’s one of those songs you can revisit separate from the whole. But, just as you thought they were going to close out gently, “Your Love is So Strong” brings back that much needed energy, due mostly to the addition of Westin Glass and his pounding drum kit. And so you find yourself near the end of it all, unsure how the band will leave us, at least for this round. “You Changed My Life” closes it all out, and while there’s a lack of speed, it sorts of sums up everything about the album. There’s light touches of traditional sounds, but with a slightly different direction to the overall construction of songs.
That about encompasses all that is Personal Life. While they’ve maintained bits and pieces of their past, they’ve been able to adapt to a new member, as well as new subject matter. It might take die-hard fans a bit of time to get stuck into this one, but the more spins you give it, the more you’ll find that its wholly more rewarding than previous efforts. The Thermals have written an album that still contains a certain edge, but allows you to absorb a bit more melody and understanding as you go track by track. Give it time kids, it’s got some special moments waiting for you all.
Download: The Thermals – I Don’t Believe You [MP3]