A ROCK ROCK ROCK ROCK WORLD - The Thermals
This review was written late last year when it looked like the band had broken up and this record was never going to come out. In light of those circumstances, what I wrote ended up being as much eulogy as review. Since then both Leigh and John have contacted us here at the Bar with assurances that copies of the album are available and the band shouldn't be consigned to the past tense just yet...
I don't know what's been happening in your neck of the woods lately, but around Sydney it's been a pretty bad year for bands, the Rifles resurgence notwithstanding, with first the New Christs disbanding, then the Hunchbacks, Challenger 7 and most recently Nitocris (some may snicker rather than mourn, but lately I've been getting into their most recent album). That's just four that spring to mind right now as I'm sitting here and ignores the likes of Brother Brick and the Panadolls, who effectively broke up some time ago, but only finally admitted it publicly this year.
Looks like you can add the Thermals to that wretched list now. I bumped into Leigh Ivin after the Penny Ikinger EP launch and he gave me the bad news that they wouldn't be making their scheduled Green Square gig the following night (though he was much keener to talk about the Nanker Phlelge gig of the week before, heaping praise on Brad Fitzpatrick's guitar playing in particular). If you live outside of Sydney, you'd have no idea what you've missed, since they never managed to tour anywhere else. With the band now gone, this record may never come out, in which case you'll never get a chance to find out how good they were either.
Leigh said he still hoped to a get a couple of hundred copies pressed up and made available one way or another to the band's supporters and other interested parties. If that happens then you'd be well advised to grab a copy when the opportunity presents itself. If it doesn't, then I guess you'll have to take my word for it that missing out on them has definitely been your loss. Let's take a few minutes to look over the 45 minute legacy they leave behind.
The album starts with a Jim Backus sound bite from the movie "It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World", taken from the scene when he's flying a plane and demanding that someone mix him a drink ("It's the only way to fly!"), which then leads into "Watcha Doin'?", a philosophical exploration of man's anxieties, aspirations, relationships and role in the grand scheme of the universe, such as Bertrand Russell might have written if he'd been moonlighting on rhythm guitar for Cheap Trick at the same time.
Next up is one of my favourite tracks, "Cock Rock Erection", which thunders along in formidable arena rock style ("Yeah I wanna get a brain scan, yeah I wanna get a suntan, yeah I gotta get a Trans Am...") right up to its multi-crescendo finale. These guys secretly loved a good length of the old cock rock (well, not so secretly really), but were always capable of seeing its more absurd side as well, so they were able to emulate it without ever being completely seduced or deluded by it.
"Walkin' Down" is a catchy little number that belts along from beginning to end, including lightning guitar solo in the middle, in under two minutes and seems to be exorcising some kind of unconscious foot/shoe fetish on route ("When you're walkin' down, I'm gonna stomp on you" indeed).
"So Right" is a blustering belter that may owe something of its genesis, thematically rather than musically, to Iggy's "Not Right". If you don't let yourself be distracted by the feminists in the audience trying to lynch the band for the male chauvinist sentiments expressed towards the end of the first verse, then you can really get into this one.
"I Hate The 90's" is one of the more hyper songs in their live set, but comes over far more mannered and restrained here. Sounds like they made a conscious decision to ensure that the listener could catch every disparaging word. Live, the lyrics tend to be spewed forth in a growling, spluttering delivery of vitriolic distaste that usually had the audience taking a step back to avoid being caught in the potential downpour of saliva when they hit the hard consonants.
"Runnin'" is a fast pickin' masterpiece with a killer speed riff chorus stretched over what sounds like the bones of a country and western song. Imagine a bunch of Tennessee hillbillies, banjo pluckers and hog fuckers trying to score a gig as an Iron Maiden covers band... That probably doesn't help you visualise the song at all, but it amuses the shit out me just thinking about it now.
"Pick Up The Pieces" is short sharp slab of ultra-heavy power pop. It never ceased to amaze me what a solid, weighty sound these guys could get without a bass player. There's no actual ringing guitar sounds here, but it's got real chirpy vocals over a nimble, bouncy beat. Simple but damn catchy chorus too.
"Good Thing" is a relaxed romp compared with some of the other tracks, virtually a power ballad. If the world were even only a slightly better place for good music than it actually is, you would have heard this on commercial radio.
"Way It's Gonna Stay", both a confession and a hymn to their addiction to rock'n'roll, is another one of the more hyper songs in their live set, but unfortunately this studio snapshot doesn't fully capture the intensity that they brought to it when they played it live. Of course, without having heard the live version to provide the basis for a comparison, you'd probably be pretty satisfied with this recording.
"Move Over" is also a live favourite and this recording does a much better job of capturing the aural climate that is, er was, created when they play(ed) it live. You can practically smell the sweat and taste the beer as you listen.
"Tatts" is a rampaging slab of slide and fret work, which might owe a little of its inspiration to a certain other band.
"Don't Do It" is another fave riffarama from their live set. It rolls in and breaks over you like a hurricane driven tidal wave over a small coastal fishing village. Run for the hills and save yourselves if you can, the end is nigh!
And there you have it. Or rather, there you don't have it, because it never got released. Last week I saw multi-pierced and supposedly ultra-cool (at least in some quarters, but I've always thought he was a complete clown) switched on, yoof savvy, music show compere and all round alternative teen icon (at least in his own mind) Dylan Lewis on his new commercial TV show, holding up the latest Bardot single and spruiking it insincerely. You can try to convince me that the Aus record scene isn't completely fucked if you like, but you'll be hard put to make me believe you.
In case you didn't know, the Thermals were: John Freckleton, guitar; Nik Reith, drums & vocals; Leigh Ivin, guitar & vocals. Vale.
That's where the original review ended, but here at the Bar we now have it in writing that "The Thermals will ROCK in 2002!" so keep your eyes and ears peeled. In the meantime, especially if you live outside Sydney, you can get the album direct from the source for around $20.00 plus postage - that's 20 Australian Pacific Pesos, which is somewhere between ten and eleven US Dollars, twelve and a bit Euros or roughly seven and half British Pounds. What a fuckin' bargain!
For more details, contact either John Freckleton or Leigh Ivin at (that's assuming you haven't already picked up Leigh's email address from the "Who's the bigger spunk, Leigh versus Kent" debate which recently raged over on the Celibate Rifles message board). The Thermals also have a web site. - John McPharlin
BACK TO THE REVIEWS PAGE
BACK TO THE BAR