In the wake of the 2016 election, one dumb observation that has become the worst of clichés is that with this kind of presidency, punk rock is going to get better. While corrupt politics have always sparked rebellious art, the notion that this kind of presidency could be good for art is eye-roll inducing to say the least, especially considering there is a cyclical element to this art. The Thermals’ third album, The Body, The Blood, The Machine is a concept album about a couple attempting to escape a post-apocalyptic world run by religious zealots. While it channels the political climate of the year it was released (2006), key themes are even more relevant now than they were then. Last week, The Thermals announced they were amicably splitting up. To give a proper sendoff to a band that has been blasting great punk rock through three different presidencies, I wanted to make the penultimate track on The Body, The Blood, The Machine, “Power Doesn’t Run on Nothing,” the SOTD. You can hear it on Spotify and Apple Music.
The song drops in like the middle of a chase scene. The frantic power chord 8ths play through at such a quick pace, all you have to do is close your eyes and you can see the conceptual couple running in your head. The vocals come in mild-mannered one line at a time. Lead singer/vocalist Hutch Harris has a calming effect on his voice that feels like narration without taking away from the urgency of the music. The driving guitar work, while simplified in a Ramones type of way, is clean and never rushed. It’s a nice little contrast that really accentuates the lyrics, the heart and soul of the song.
“Power Doesn’t Run on Nothing” is essentially broken into three parts, lyrically. The beginning is introducing a narrative of who they are and their motivation:
we’re hyper and we stare into space
with grins on our faces
The song immediately transcends into some demands:
so give us what we’re asking for
cause either way we’re gonna take it
our power doesn’t run on nothing
we need the land you’re standing on
so let’s go, move it
The song maintains the frantic pace and straight 8ths of the introduction, but now feels like an allegory for colonialism. The second part of the song doubles down on the demands but with a new level of expectation and entitlement:
you need to let go, move it
we’re more equal
we’ll move you people off the planet
cause goddamn, we need the fuel
The song is so good at progressing the story verse by verse and there’s a level of repetition that pays off in the third part break:
they’ll give us what we’re asking for
cause god is with us
and our god is the richest
our power doesn’t run on nothing
it runs on blood
and blood is easy to obtain
when you have no shame
The song cuts to instrumental, the driving chords are still there but a little bit more distant. And then Harris belts out the coup d’grace:
WE HAVE NO SHAME!
It’s the first time he really yells in the song and it’s the perfect time. This is some straight up final boss battle stuff, it’s a climax of climaxes and the perfect way to let the lyrics hit home. The band has always been so great at capturing an array of frustration and anguish into their songs, and this is the best example of just that. It’s a call out, it’s meta, and most importantly it’s a shining example that while punk rock and art in general is a reflection of society, we shouldn’t have to go through new levels of tyranny to create art that means something.