Saddle Creek | The Thermals | Reviews


The Thermals: Desperate Ground

Author: Channing Freeman
04/17/2013 | Sputnik Music | | Album Review
Review Summary: Desperate in name only.

It’s easy to like The Thermals but hard to really fall in love with them, and it all comes back to The Body, The Blood, The Machine.

That album is a pretty much agreed-upon classic, and for good reason too. It’s one of my favorite albums of all time. But it’s different from everything else the band has released, and because of that, The Thermals are often relegated to the status of a one-album-wonder. I don’t share that opinion. I think that Now We Can See and Personal Life, the two albums released after The Body… are amazing. But they’re different. They’re simpler, more repetitive, and not as immediate.

Desperate Ground is similar to those two albums, but it seems to also be filtered through what the band did on The Body, The Blood, The Machine. This concept made me excited initially, but in reality the album is a little too one-note to truly be great. Granted, with The Thermals, one has to temper their expectations. This is fun, catchy music before anything else, and while I embrace that, it also makes me a little bit sad. The Thermals have always seemed to me like the second coming of The Pixies; that is to say, they are a high-energy rock band that combines both a love for the mainstream and for the underground. Desperate Ground leans a little bit too far toward the latter and suffers because of it. It’s a loud and brash album, but too often, that’s all it is. There is one volume throughout, and the same distorting effects are present on Hutch’s voice in every song.

I guess what’s missing is urgency, which is weird because the pacing and lyrics of the album make it sound urgent at first. Desperate Ground is violent, gleefully dripping with blood, and it never slows down. But what made The Body… so great was its narrative intricacy; it really had the feel of some sort of indie thriller film, with a camera that captured both the paranoid, frightening moments and the beauty of being on the run with someone you love. This album is blunt, both in its sound and its lyrics (really, just look at the song titles to know what Hutch will be shouting a few times in the chorus). It’s still The Thermals, it’s still catchy as fuck, and I’ll still turn the volume way up when I listen to it in the car this summer, but they’re capable of more than this.