And all I’ve wanted my whole damn life is something like this to materialise
and all I’ve wanted my whole damn life is love and luck to collide
all I’ve ever needed is to be part of something meaningful
all I’ve ever wanted is to leave this world more
(The Smith Street Band – I Love Life)
It was sometime in the late summer of last year. Me and a few other guys, some of which I hardly knew, crammed into a small car and drove to Bielefeld. If you have ever been there, you probably know that this is not a city where you most likely want to spend a nice evening. But we had a goal: Together with two or three local bands, the amazing Apologies, I Have None were set to play at a youth centre. And they did, they did very well indeed. The highlight of the evening was another band, though: The Smith Street Band from Melbourne, Australia.
I wasn’t really familiar with them at that time. I remember having skipped through a few of their songs on bandcamp before the show, but I didn’t listen really closely (what a fool I was). One thing led to another and I went home with a copy of their sophomore album “Sunshine & Technology” plus a good number of sing-a-long lines wandering through my brain over the next few weeks.
So, to cut a long story short, some weeks ago they finally released the follow-up album “Throw Me In The River” and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t curious to hear it. You see, after all The Smith Street Band are a folky punk rock band – and with those bands there’s always this huge fear that it just bores you after a few songs, because you’ve heard it all before. Luckily, this didn’t happen with “…River”.
The reason for that is quite simple: With Wil Wagner they have a singer and lyricist that makes all the difference (I like Lee, Michael and Chris too, though). The first two or three rounds of listening to the album left me somehow unmoved. Sure, there still were the aforementioned sing-a-long parts, but the songs didn’t catch on directly. So I did what had to be done, put my headphones on, the lyrics on the table and sat quietly for the next 45 minutes.
All eleven songs on “River” tell little stories, mostly stories about growing up – or at least that’s what I got out of them. I mean, honestly, let’s face it: a song like “Calgary Girls” pretty much describes me some five to ten years ago, with all the despair, the feeling of having fucked things up, combined with the strange little romantic memory of how good those times really were when looking back now. The same applies to the equally moving “The Arrogance Of The Drunk Pedestrian” with it’s amazing build-up resulting in a massive clash of riffs and screams and drums and everything, or “It’s Alright, I Understand” probably featuring the best lyrics of the whole album:
So I ask for directions even though I know exactly where I am
just want someone to talk to
someone to hold their hand against my hand
say, “It’s alright, I understand”
But “River” is not the continuous self-portrait you potentially have in mind right now, since Wagner is also a pretty vigilant observer of his surroundings. “East London Summer” for instance even knocks on the door to John K. Samson’s work, emphatically demanding to get in (fun fact: the song was at least partly written in Winnipeg, John K.’s hometown – coincidence? I don’t think so!).
I could easily go on and on writing about just how perfect lyrics and music work together on “River”, but I’ve got the feeling you should better experience it yourself (yes, I do know that this is also a pretty lame exit from an album review). Start with one of the above-mentioned songs or the first single, “Surrender”, which is one of the band’s beloved three minute smashers.
You can pick up a copy here:
http://www.sideonedummy.com/product-category/tssb/ (US & Int.)