Album review: The Thermals' 'Personal Life'

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Friday, October 15, 2010

It's a testament to the Thermals' singer and songwriter Hutch Harris that he can write catchy hooks on "Personal Life" with lyrics that can be so pessimistic. Don't we sing when we are happy, anyway? But on "I Don't Believe You," when Harris sings, "Say you're wasting away/Say you're wasting your days/I don't believe you," we sing along, just as we must on most of the other beefy choruses on the album. It's almost as if Harris revels in his indignation.

"Personal Life" works largely because, even in slower numbers such as "Alone, a Fool," it's a bottom-enders' delight with a steady thump. Bassist Kathy Foster and drummer Westin Glass are out in front on many tunes, propelling songs including "Only for You" and "You Changed My Life."

To be sure, this is no angry band: It's more like happy punk. Harris understands that no one really wants music like this to be a buzz kill. Which is why on "Never Listen to Me," he can sing "Fall by my side/I only mean to deceive/Never listen to me" and you'll sing along happily. Whereas on the band's earlier releases, Harris took aim at such topics as religion and politics, now he's in it for love. By his own admission Harris is a pretty intense guy.

That's evident on "Personal Life": At times he sings with determined enunciation that makes him sound angry. But really, it's just his personality. At a time when we have plenty of indie singers who sound as if they don't want to wake the neighbors, it's a breath of fresh air. Or maybe, given the nature of the album, it's a loud, stiff breeze.

- Benjamin Opipari

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