Things have gone pretty well for the Thermals thus far in their career. By all accounts, they were just hanging around Portland playing shows for the hell of it and decided to take a walk out into the country one day. The day in question was a dusty one, which is odd for the Pacific Northwest. Some say they heard a train go by. Others say the train hasn’t run out that way since ‘67. But, one thing was for sure: it was hot. In fact, it was the hottest day in three years. It was also humid, which, again, is strange for the Northwest. One of the guys from the Thermals, the singer maybe, stopped to ask a man for a handkerchief to wipe his brow, but it wasn’t just some stranger, it was Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie. Gibbard introduced himself and asked for their company, “Why don’t you Thermals walk with me for a spell? Up to this here crossroads.” And the Thermals responded gladly, “Sure, Ben. I mean, Mr. Ben.” Upon arriving at the crossroads Gibbard asked to stop and check his map. When he reached into his pocket and removed the folded paper he spoke with some surprise, “Why this ain’t no map. It’s a Sub Pop contract. Goddamn things always crowding up my coat pockets. Would you Thermals mind holding this for me? Say, you wouldn’t be interested in something like this would you?” The Thermals held a quick band huddle and decided that they were, indeed, interested in such a thing. Two years later, the lucky bastards stand before you with this their second Sub Pop release, Fuckin’ A. Go ahead; ask them to stand in front of a mirror. You aren’t gonna like what you see.
I’m not saying that the Thermals aren’t deserving of their success. Their music is definitely energetic. The chanted vocals are almost always catchy. Their particular version of pop/punk is just as fightable as it is danceable, which is so refreshing. I even salute the fact that they’ve called their album, Fuckin’ A. That alone severely limits their chances of having MTV2-fueled Best Buy sales success. I like a little mud in the eye of the establishment. I like music for music’s sake.
My big complaint is that even after repeated listening, the songs on Fuckin’ A fail to distinguish themselves from one another. The bass and drums come out swinging on the opener, “Our Trip”. The guitar squeals and singer, Hutch Harris, smacks you upside the head with the band’s raison d’etre: “It’s our trip / We’re not listening / We’re taking grip / We’re talking shit.” Cool, right? On the second track, the bass and drums come out swinging, the guitar squeals and singer, Hutch Henry, gives you the band’s raison d’etre: “Today was fine / So don’t remind me / I cut the lock now / I’m through talking.” See what I mean? If they had flipped these two tracks, or any two tracks from the album, on to a 7-inch, I would have left thinking that this is one swell punk band. But, as it stands, the 12 tracks on this album feel claustrophobic. They’re all up in each other’s business. Sure, the vocal rhythm on “How We Know” is downright snappy; the minor chords on “Remember Today” make for swell nostalgia; and the social conscious of “God and Country” is certainly to be applauded; but there’s still something missing. I hate to say it, but it’s gotta be the soul. The spirit of spit-fueled revolution music rides on soaring choruses of spite, and flag-shredding guitar riffs. The Thermals can’t quite produce enough of either.
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