Here’s a scenario: you pop in a new CD in the stereo. You don’t really know what you’re getting into, and when that first track starts, you can’t help but spout the following: “Fuckin’ A.” The Thermals’ third album, The Body, The Blood, The Machine is just such an album. After releasing an admirable debut, More Parts Per Million, and an exceptional second LP, Fuckin’ A, the curve was pointed directly at an outstanding third effort. Portland’s Thermals not only pulled off that feat, but they also created an album that is politically relevant, while at the same time energetic and fun.
The Body, The Blood, The Machine “imagines” that the United States is run by a fascist Christian government and many of the songs focus on the need and means to escape. Clearly inspired by political landscape of today, with a number of the Christian Right taking alarming steps to curb our rights, the album also takes cues from writers like Sinclair Lewis. The promo package even includes a very fitting quote from Lewis: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in The Flag and carrying The Cross.” While the material is serious, the songs are still filled with exuberance. The Thermals’ formula of post-pop-punk (a termed coined by The Thermals themselves) wonderfully counterbalances the paranoid nature of the subject matter.
The albums kicks off with “Here’s Your Future,” propelled by a simple three-chord guitar line played by guitarist/vocalist Hutch Harris. Harris gives us a grim warning of things to come (at least partly fictional, we hope): “Bend your knees and bow your heads/save your babies/ here’s your future.” Bassist Kathy Foster does impressive double duty throughout the album playing a furious kick-snare beat. I haven’t heard anyone hit the snare that hard since Dave Grohl stepped behind the kit way back when. In “I Might Need You To Kill” The Thermals channel the grunge era and even take a cue from the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” The song has Harris ranting about religious fanatics blurring the line between Jesus and Hitler: “I might need you to lead/ and part the sea so we can cross/ if they follow us still/ I might need you to kill.” Brotherly love, indeed.
While it may come off as paranoid babble, many of the lyrics ring true when it’s taken down a few degrees. In “An Ear For Baby,” Harris sings “lose your intentions/ lose your common sense/ it’s time to groom you for judgment” and isn’t that just what some in the Christian Right want? One of the best songs on an album of exceptional songs is “A Pillar of Salt.” A fast and furious track that captures the urgency of escape perfectly, the song puts you at the edge of your seat considering the fairly thin narrative. “Test Pattern” is another highlight, a slower-paced song that, when compared to the others, is almost a ballad.
It’s hard to disassociate the music from the subject matter, but putting that aside, the songs rock hard and the energy is off the charts. No matter what, The Thermals will get you to move your body. Hutch Harris sings with so much enthusiasm but also with a great deal of frustration with the state of the country. The album will hardly win converts from the Christian Right, but The Thermals have done something much more creative with their frustration than many bands on Fox News’ Blacklist. Many bands today seem to avoid sounding too political and it’s refreshing to hear a band not only do so, but take it a step further and catalyze their frustration into a higher form of art. In the very, least The Thermals have crafted one of the most passionate albums of the year.
Green Day – American Idiot
Sleater-Kinney – One Beat
Bikini Kill – Pussywhipped