After making two albums of unbridled, incredible noisy indie rock and a third album that scaled back the noise but boosted the lyrical stakes, the Thermals lost the plot on their fourth record, Now We Can See. The glossy production and clichéd rock & roll moves made it seem like the band was off the rails for good, but luckily for fans of the band’s energy and outlook, their fifth album Personal Life is a welcome comeback. Thanks to Chris Walla's simple production and a batch of catchy, emotionally powerful songs that mostly drop the preachiness of the previous album for a more personal approach, the band seems to have found their way again. A handful of songs that sound like indie rock mixtape highlights, lyrics that define angst-ridden, and Hutch Harris's way-out-front vocals are all trademark Thermals, but the group’s sometimes overbearing sound is tempered by some restraint this time out. Though temperance (sonically and lyrically) may not be what fans of the group’s early work may be looking for, as the band matures it’s better to see them going in a stripped-down and thoughtful direction rather than a bland and uninteresting one. Besides, Harris, bassist Kathy Foster and drummer Westin Glass make restraint work for them anyway by sounding like they are straining to stay that way, controlling their fury and delivering their messages clearly. There’s a power in this technique that keeps you wrapped up in the album right along with the band, an easy-to-grasp immediacy and power they’ve never had before. Though they should've rocked out a couple times for some variation, Personal Life is a good example of a band growing up without growing old.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra