Without becoming tired, The Thermals played variations of essentially the same song for four albums, thanks to pointed lyrics as immediate as the elbow-grease production values that lent such charm to their first two albums. “Personal Life,” the band’s fifth outing, continues the band’s march to an increasingly clean sound pointed to by last year’s “Now We Can See,” and loses a bit of its lyrical bite along the way.

Without becoming tired, The Thermals played variations of essentially the same song for four albums, thanks to pointed lyrics as immediate as the elbow-grease production values that lent such charm to their first two albums.


“Personal Life,” the band’s fifth outing, continues the band’s march to an increasingly clean sound pointed to by last year’s “Now We Can See,” and loses a bit of its lyrical bite along the way.


The new record is “hardly art, hardly garbage,” as lead singer and chief songwriter Hutch Harris sang on that 2003 debut, but as continued success can lead to complacency, Hutch and bassist Kathy Foster are “hardly starving.”


With that extra food on their plate, The Thermals have found themselves in the land of generic indie guitar rock — a long way away from the lo-fi, four-track recorder days of the 2003 debut “More Parts More Million.”


Lyrically, “Personal Life” continues the band’s turn inward, and away from critiques of the world outside. If the band’s finest moment — 2006’s Bush-era polemic “The Body the Blood the Machine” — had relentless pacing and energy to match scalding lyrics, the new record’s navel-gazing introspection matches the mid-tempo drudgery.


“Your Love is So Strong” attempts to ape aspects from each of the previous two superior records — the “oh-way-ohs” of the title track on “Now We Can See,” the cathartic guitars of 2006’s “Here’s Your Future,” but, like much of the new record, it smells like leftovers. It’s one of six song titles on the record to include a variation of the words “you” or “me,” and like the rest, it deals with how wonderful, or less-than-wonderful, Harris believes your love is.


Only “I Don’t Believe You” breaks through, as Harris calls out an unnamed lover on her obvious excuses. But even it relies on “oh-way-ohs” for half of the chorus.


Harris has said that he prefers to write songs with big chords, and that Foster had a larger hand in writing this record, resulting in more angular, riff-orientated guitars and prominent bass lines. What I hear are meandering single-note guitars, and occasionally “big” chord, albeit diminished with a less than enthusiastic strum — placed over perfunctory bass and drums.


I miss the big chords, and the big statements that, despite the thin line, avoided meaningless sloganeering.


As each album strips off another layer of edge, the Thermals are beginning to resemble a mid ‘90s radio rock band more and more, only without the hooks. And, without the caustic sarcasm of “The Body the Blood the Machine,” or the lo-fi scrape of the early records, Harris just sounds like an updated model from the Better than Ezra factory.


Grade: C


Ed McMenamin may be reached at emcmenamin@pekintimes.com.