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The Thermals

"Second verse, same as the first!" When Joey Ramone, innocently enough, heisted this line from Herman's Hermits, little did he know that it would one day become a battle cry. Since then, untold scores of punk and indie acts have clung fanatically to a simple, profoundly imbecilic idea: making every one of their songs sound exactly the same. Jonathan Richman, the Misfits, Lungfish, the Sea and Cake -- the list goes on and on. And although a lot of people badmouth such bands as having no versatility, these are usually the same dipshits who don't like jazz or reggae or country because -- you guessed it -- "all that stuff sounds exactly the same."

Portland's the Thermals, however, know full well the power of sounding like a broken record. Fuckin A is the follow-up to last year's dark-horse success, More Parts per Million, and it's more or less a clone of its predecessor. While brisk, prickly riffs spread and rankle like a rash, singer/guitarist Hutch Harris hacks up clipped couplets of vaguely solipsistic gibberish such as "We're self-mending/We're self-cleansing/Our slate is clean/Say what you mean." At first glance, Fuckin A is a wad of geeky, repetitive pop punk in sore need of some antihistamine. Lean closer, though, and you'll notice a chaotic splay of soul, thought, and emotion wherein Minor Threat drops acid with Robert Pollard and armed revolution swaps spit with drunken heartache. Yeah, the second verse is the same as the first is the same as the 33rd; Harris himself admits as much in "End to Begin" ("Repeat/Repeat/Repeat/Ride to me/Right through me"). But in its relentless recursion, Fuckin A hammers a Morse code of lust, life, and every possible combination thereof straight into the bull's-eye of your gray matter. Tautology? More like a mantra. -- Jason Heller

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