Over the course of seven years and four LP's, The Thermals have tackled a variety of subjects with no small amount of passion and fervor. Religion, politics, death, these are some heavy themes! Yet The Thermals have irreverently run roughshod over these topics with excesses of moxie and gusto, the likes of which the post/punk/pop/power/etc. community had never before seen! Now, for their fifth LP, The Thermals have battled (and perhaps even conquered!) the deepest and darkest of all popular art themes- love.
Not that The Thermals haven't sung/spoken/screamed about love before. Every Thermals LP has at least two or three songs that provide a short respite from whatever paranoid chaos is going on to deal with love, and the wide range of emotions it produces and abuses. But never before have The Thermals devoted an entire LP to love, loss, and… lies! That's right, you can't have a little love without a lot of loss and lies. More than an album strictly about love, Personal Life is about relationships. It's about the concept of a connection between two people - making it, breaking it, and faking it.
The first three songs on Personal Life speak to the listener using the exact language of love and lust. "I'm Gonna Change Your Life", "I Don't Believe You", "Never Listen To Me" - these are (for better or worse) all phrases lovers have said to each other ever since Adam and Eve realized there was more to do in Eden than just eat fruit all day. These songs set up the "story" (for lack of better a term - Personal Life is as much a concept record as the last two Thermals LP's were, which is to say it's not much of one, but it kind of is). The record may begin optimistically, almost arrogantly, but by the second song problems have already arisen. The drama begins, and as all of us who have loved know, once the drama starts there ain't no stopping it.
The next three songs explore the similarities between politics and emotions. Power wielded on an international level is really not so different than power wielded in a relationship. Someone always has to be on top. If you're on the bottom, you're asking yourself, "How can I get on top?" If you're on top, it's hard not to constantly question your worth and longevity. "How did I get here, and how do I stay here? Do I deserve this? Am I satisfied?" Sometimes getting what you wished for isn't all it's cracked up to be. Power Lies!
In the last third of Personal Life, the titles and lyrics again take a direct approach with the listener. "Only For You", "Your Love Is So Strong" and "You Changed My Life" are again phrases pulled straight from real-life situations, although these versions may contain more dark sarcasm than usual. All in all, Personal Life amounts to the indie-rock equivalent of a brilliant but ultimately doomed love affair. A beautiful, turbulent experience that will hopefully leave you wiser in the ways of love and life.
Personal Life is something of retro-technical achievement. Producer Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie, Tegan and Sara) recorded The Thermals the same way in which he produced their 2004 LP Fuckin' A. The band was recorded live (for the most part) to tape, and the album was mixed to tape as well. The sonic care Walla gave to Personal Life assures an enjoyable listen for audiophiles (the vinyl was mastered straight from tape) as well as for the rest of us who don't care and will be listening on shitty headphones and Radio Shack speakers.