(4 out of 5)
Having matured from a spazzy-but-smart pop-punk band into Makers of Thematically Unified Concept Albums, the Thermals have seemingly painted themselves into a corner. The band crafted an eloquent (and infectious) statement about Christo-fascism on 2006’s THE BODY, THE BLOOD, THE MACHINE, and followed it up last year with a poetic (yet equally infectious) paean to the afterlife NOW WE CAN SEE. Where do they go from there? Another concept album or something ridiculously fun and heartfelt? How about both? PERSONAL LIFE could, technically, be called another Thermals concept album, but one doubts that lead singer Hutch Harris really stretched himself too much to fill up a record with catchy and emotionally engaging songs about the ups and downs (and ins and outs) of relationships. This, after all, is what pop bands have been doing for decades. Of course, Harris is an exceptional lyricist, and there’s lots more to dig into on PERSONAL LIFE than variations on “Oh baby, why do I love you so much?” By digging into the dynamics (both lovely and ugly) about relationships, Harris paints a startlingly realistic picture about the lengths and struggles people go through to be together and stay together. As usual, less verbally-inclined folks can completely ignore his lyrics and dig right into the tightly wound and propulsive songs; PERSONAL LIFE finds the band teamed again with producer Chris Walla, resulting in surprising arrangements and full-force melodies. Just be careful: Those lyrics you’re singing joyfully along with may not be quite as happy as the music makes you feel.
First appeared Sept. 7, 2010 at Shockhound.com.