Review Summary: Now in one flavor, and in one flavor only.
God bless the soul who’s never watched Forrest Gump; one can take only so many TBS reruns before the box of chocolate’s content becomes predictable. Titanic is another victim of the fatal Gump Syndrome. You’ve seen it, your mother’s seen it, your grandmother’s seen it. Heck, the family dog’s probably seen it. Twice. Particular words in our own English language suffer from similar symptoms of overwrought popularity. According to Lake Superior State University of Michigan’s “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness,” epic
is dead. Good riddance, I say. Enough epic fails, enough epic wins, enough of that criminal colloquialism. But what concerns me is Gump Syndrome’s viral power: Hollywood will forever run medieval war cinema through Lord of the Rings emulators, and starry-eyed young rock bands will continuously kill creativity, conduct stadium electricity, and call it inspiration. Dye It Blonde
, the sophomore effort from Chicago’s Smith Westerns, is proof in the pudding that epic, that is, the art of being epic
, is here to stay.
From the get-go, it’s obvious that the American quartet’s been reading up on their britpop. Lead single and first track “Weekend,” a melodic guitar-driven piece of Summer festival charm, features plenty of “na-na-na’s” and faux-British vocal embellishment, not to mention its carefree lyrics. “Is it normal to go through life oh so formal?” frontman Cullen Omori asks an anonymous female “you,” before declaring that “weekends never are fun unless you’re around here too.” In theory, “Weekend”’s upbeat tune and lighthearted invitation to sing along sounds like a winning formula, but the Smith Westerns equation fails to check out on both sides. “Weekend” and the nine songs that follow it are totally synthetic. This isn’t the second coming of britpop, not even close; this is the sound of a britpop cover band going through the motions of covering despite being disconnected from the songs themselves. Except the disconnect here is with original material, which only exemplifies the record’s staleness. The real killer, though, isn’t a deficiency of foundation but the horrible truth that Dye It Blonde
is thirty-five minutes of slogging sameness, not just in songwriting but in atmosphere as well.
My hypothesis is that Smith Westerns listened to Definitely Maybe
for encouragement and then, having already written their ten songs, swaggered into the studio and recorded them all in one sitting. Because that’s what it sounds like: same tone, same mood, same lyrical fixation, same instruments, same wannabe cathartic buildup to the chorus, same face-forward flop when the chorus’ epic whoa-oh feel actually sweeps across your ears. They’re the worst parts, the choruses. A good britpop chorus combusts with passionate intent, but a Smith Westerns chorus sets itself on fire, unable to distinguish the difference. By the time the frustratingly homogenous closer “Dye the World” expires, any chance of a phoenix metaphor has disintegrated alongside the album itself. Clearly, Smith Westerns shoot for the moon with Dye It Blonde
. One day, if they continue in the direction they’re going, I think they’ll make it there only to realize they’re decades late. They’ll look at each other in bewilderment and wonder where their audience is, and then it will dawn on them: their audience is safely grounded on Earth. Everybody watched the first lunar landing, sure, but after that it was all old news. And Smith Westerns will then drift away, lost eternally in the nothingness of faulty ambition.
Shame on you, Smith Westerns. Dye It Blonde
is catchy, fun, and enjoyable, and it’ll earn you spots in countless numbers of prestigious music festivals. Major publications and music journals will praise you for it, perhaps even include you in their best-of lists at the end of the year. But it’s a lifelessly derivative illusion, an alteration of your natural hair color, and you know it. My advice to interested listeners is this: spin it twice, choose the two or three songs you like the most – I mean, they’re virtually all the same, anyway – and then delete the rest. At least when you watch Titanic for the umpteenth time, there’s still that sex scene.