‘Extended Adolescence’ : Personal Life – The Thermals (Album Review)

Posted on October 21, 2010


It’s natural for an older sibling to feel concerned for a younger’s wellbeing, most would agree. My younger brother (like myself) went through what seemed like an extended adolescence; working shit jobs, worrying about the future, finding happiness in or out of love… those sorts of things. What always eased my worries was his determination. He could grind out, he could save and suffer, shit, he got employee of the month his first month at a McDonald’s Drive Thru!
As the hand-me-down era of our childhood passed (my older brother trickled down to us old CD’s by Offspring, Green Day, NOFX etc) I decided that I would rekindle this by buying him an album every year for his birthday. Last year it was The XX, not because I thought they were on ‘the verge’ (they won Mercury Music Prize nine months later…I’m just saying) but because it depicted a kind of detached atmosphere that I imagined would help him outside of his current job (the tills at Aldi) It was meant as something just for him, in his personal life…

This year, Personal Life by The Thermals is looking likely to be the coveted CD of choice. The song titles alone kick off a theme of direct address that prickles the whole album, the language of the lyrics, too, stab at your attention. It’s ‘you’ ‘me’ ‘your’ ‘mine’ ‘don’t’ and ‘never’. The bass on I’m Gonna Change Your Life matches this boldness, carving a new gap in my ears, reminding me of the first time I ever paid attention to a bass player at a gig. It’s persistent, Portland, garage-punk sound continues throughout the early tracks; the singer is quirky enough to litter over what seem quite simple riffs and rhythms, but most notably it sounds forceful- the chorus on I Don’t Believe You jams into my memory like a worn out pound coin into a self service coin slot, and in such circumstances I at times begin to question its originality.

My brother’s (and my) ‘extended adolescence’ is welcomed here. Not Like Any Other Feeling puts emphasis on ‘feeling’ rather than thinking, the sound offers calming simplicity to what will, for young people everywhere, always be a complicated time of life. Like cutting a knot with scissors. There’s a likable angst and aggression to the vocals, heard best on Power Lies, where I can’t help but wonder if this was the sound that Glasvegas seemed to be aiming for?

Later in the album with Only For You I’m thankful for a shift to more romantic themes, some guitar parts hint at Joy Division to me, but that’s not true of the majority of the album. Critically, the track Alone, A Fool goes dark- a revealed slice of inevitable self-indulgence in comparison to the ‘showy’ tracks on the rest of the album. When I regretfully say ‘showy’ by the way, I mean as in prepared, decided, concentrated. This track shows another side to The Thermals, it sounds like bathroom despair, like an accidental demo, with the singer banging his fists on a tiled wall while the band huddles, recording from outside. If the band’s history of ‘line-up changes’ are anything to go by- it’s probably heartfelt expression here.

Personal Life channels adolescent angst into a focused and driven entity. Live shows will benefit from the loyalty to the sound, but The Thermals gather enough musical range here to keep us interested. It also showcases what is, in my opinion, one of the most exciting things in music; a singer with, what sounds like, an ambition for personal change. My brother now is engaged to be married, and is training to be a teacher which are both wonderful, grown up things to be doing at twenty-three. I feel this album will aid him in remembering the passion of younger years- accepting what might have been past pain, but moving forward boldly.

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Posted in: Reviews