The Thermals’ Personal Life marks the return of the collaboration between the band and producer Chris Walla (of Death Cab for Cutie fame) and a change in the lyrical content. Bookended by the songs “I’m Gonna Change Your Life” and “You Changed My Life,” this album is all about personal statements concerning relationships and deep felt emotion.
With the jangly turn in lyrics, it isn’t surprising that the music has also followed suit. What the band has sacrificed in noisy, fast-paced pop punk, they have made up for with smooth, bass-driven indie pop. “Never Listen to Me” makes more sense as a bass heavy track that takes its time to create a mood of growing despair rather than a rapid fire of emotions, anger and frustration, served up with messy and out of control music. Similarly, “Not Like Any Other Feeling,” sounds great because it is so heavily laden with a cruising bass line that compliments and builds all other notes laid on top of it. The plucky guitar line is simple, but when layered over the bass, gives edge and depth to its meaning and composition.
If you are looking for a repeat of the politically charged Fuckin A, or the moral indignation on both The Body, the Blood, the Machine and Now We Can See, then you might be sorely disappointed. But if you are willing to let the Thermals discuss and explore alternate facets of their rock and roll psyches, then you might just get surprised by their slowed down and cleaned up pop tracks. This album may not be their career defining moment, as that ship seems to have sailed long ago, but it is definitely an inspired and excellence addition to the band’s musical repertoire.