Tuesday, January 16, 2007


4. The Thermals - The Body the Blood the Machine
I’ve been really interested in God lately. Moving from a place like New York City to a place like Richmond makes you think. Do people really expect others to keep their religious beliefs out of their political desires and decisions? On the other hand, do people really expect others to respect political views that are so obviously rooted in the existence of a supernatural being? Can there be some common ground here?
The Thermals have made an endlessly fascinating record about these issues. They paint a picture of an America taken over by religious interests and recreated as a fascist juggernaut. It’s not such a far-fetched idea when you listen to our president frame the war on terror as a battle of good against evil rather than a very complicated struggle among various worldviews. But rather than giving in to the sort of schoolyard posturing that characterized Green Day’s last album (which I really liked, by the way), the Thermals posit a nuanced and thoughtful reaction to such a possibility.
That’s not to say that there’s no anger here. Hutch Harris sounds absolutely ferocious on “Pillar of Salt” when he screams “And we don’t want to die or apologize for our dirty God, our dirty bodies!” More than the attacks on civil liberties, more than the judgments, the hijacking of God for political gain is what they are really pissed about. And that’s where the album is so brilliant; it’s not an attack on God, it’s an attack on those who hide behind God. The band actually seems to believe in some sort of spiritual presence. On “Returning to the Fold” Harris sings, “I forgot I needed God like a big brother, and maybe when I die, I’ll die escaping, I’ll die returning to the fold.” He seems to be speaking for all those who, like me, have had the love of God beaten out of them by people who see and present Him one-dimensionally.
The Body the Blood the Machine doesn’t provide any neat answers to the problem of religion creeping into politics. It does make the simple, irrefutable point that when the two things get too close, they corrupt each other. Wars are created and justified in the name of God, and the most fundamental principles of religion can be undermined in pursuit of the pettiest political goals. And yet it is ignorant to suggest that religion should not affect one’s civic life and political views. The nature of religion is that it provides a foundation for all life, not just the parts of life that don’t deal with politics. Maintaining that precarious balance between the two extremes is our duty as citizens.
The final blow, the real thing that puts this album above most others this year, is the energy and ferocity of the music. A lot of people criticized the Thermals for sacrificing their rawness and excitement for the lofty ideas on this album. I think they must not have heard the same record I did. Every song bursts forth with enough energy to change the world and enough joy to convince even the most hardened cynic of the power of revolutionary ideas. It’s the music that lifts these words up to the heights and turns them into art. And it’s the music that’s going to make me go deaf listening to this album as loud as I can over and over again.


Post a Comment

<< Home