Thursday 7 September 2006

The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine

I never considered The Thermals one of my favourite bands. I liked every single one of their songs, enjoyed both "Fuckin A" and "More Parts Per Million", thought that Kathy Foster was one of the cutest pop people alive and that Hutch Harris enigmatic, weird voice was one of the best available on the thin red line between punk and pop. But never have I put too much attention to their lyrics, since their music alone was worth listening to. Yes, I did dance around in my room on The Thermals, I did take them to several strange countries in order to carry something close to my heart in my ears, and I was proud that I had found the most likeable band of the new century. And then came "The Body, The Blood, The Machine", and all of a sudden it was entirely impossible to ignore the lyrics. A strange feeling spread, starting with the cover of the CD, showing a Jesus with a black bulk in front of his eyes. The Spex review of the record: "Oh Mann, das ist ein Album über religiösen Faschismus." Also in this review is the statement that every nice person likes the Thermals – they are the kind of band you can not possibly hate without being a bad person.
And a record about religious fascism it is. The first song, "Here's your Future", puts a brutal, honest end to the assertion that a possibly existing god could be loving, forgiving or even humane. In the tradition of the old testament, the old man turns out to be a selfish, horribly violent creature. "I Might Need You To Kill" seems to be about a religious army. "They follow, they follow" chants Hutch Harris, and we shudder, we are all afraid. "An Ear For Baby" sends the army to its first mission, to draw new borders, for a new first world order.
Nothing is ever made clear. This is not a fictional dystopia, there are no clarifications, no names, we do not even know where all of this takes place. Whatever happens is told in phrases. "We Got a Job to Do" sounds like the military articulation of Fox News. In "A Pillar of Salt", which sounds like a pop hymn everybody can dance to:
we were born to sin!
we don't think we're special sir
we know everybody is
we built too many walls
yeah we built too many walls!
And now we gotta' run
a giant fist is out to crush us

This is a machine of de-individualized bodies, marching for one system, for one god, for one ideology. Calling it a fascist state would be an interpretation, but one the Thermals would possibly not disagree with.
"Back to the Sea" evokes memories of the holocaust. "Two by two, lord we'll take her two by two, we'll lead them through the pouring rain, we'll lead them to the gas chamber." The Thermals never say which country. They never call names. But everybody can fill their canvas with their very own interpretations. They draw a blurred picture of fear. "Power Doesn't Run On Nothing" seems to be the clearest song, and it is the best of the record.
"I Hold the Sound" finishes the arc which started with the creation of the earth. Seemingly placed right after the apocalypse (the world is older, the world is over), a pair of lovers stumbles over the silent, cold world, alone.
Where Cursive are articulate about the details, The Thermals know where their strengths lies: in creating the strongest possible emotions, in only hinting, never saying. The record leaves us afraid.

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