When the Smith Westerns first came about, I showed them a bit of indifference, and I think that was justified. Vocals on their last album were really muddy, and almost hurt to listen to at point. But dammit if the band just didn’t up and turn it around for their latest, Dye It Blonde. Not only do the vocals feel vastly improved, but the music itself appears pristine at points, allowing the band’s talents to be presented to you in all their sonic glory.
“Weekend” really kicks things off on the right foot, and it even shines through with a bit of the musical nods to bands of the past. That opening guitar squall, as well as many that appear throughout the record, definitely give me the feeling of “The Concept” by Teenage Fanclub. Such a gentle vocal approach really sets the audience up for a warmer listening experience in comparison to the aforementioned early works; if you’re not hooked right away, just hold on a second. They give off a bit of an off-kilter vibe in “Still New,” using a steady drum beat to accompany the feedback of the guitar as it maneuvers sharply through your ear canals. Personally, this is the song that grabbed me, but admittedly, I’m a dork for classic power-pop, even if you can see Bowie/Bolan prancing around in the background.
You’ll find the band’s glam influences evolved, and they no longer feel as if that’s the sole inspiration for the writing on Dye It Blonde. Sure, you can hear it in a track like “All Die Young,” especially with that high-pitch vocal touch, yet the band seems really bent on creating the perfect hodgepodge of all things pop. If you can combine glam and Britpop, turn it on its head to make it sound modern, you’re bound to find winning tracks left and right; that’s just where Smith Westerns have gone beyond our expectations. Besides, the fuzzed bass on “Fallen in Love” melded with some jangling guitar and cymbal work really provide you with everything you need in a solid pop album.
The thing I’ve noticed about Dye It Blonde is that its appeal is so large that everyone is going to discover their own personal gem, and I think that really defines this record in the long-run. Personally, the whisper of the vocals on “Only One” grabbed at me right away, pulling me in as a listener. It went on to move a bit away from the glam influence, almost reverting back to the days of pop that served as a precursor to the likes of T. Rex. There’s even a bit of a jammy breakdown near the end, so you know it’s going to be a rocking number live too!
You couldn’t have asked a band to do more in a short period of time than what Smith Westerns have accomplished. They pieced together an album that utilizes their various influences, given those touches some nice fresh tweaks, and everything else dazzlingly fell into place. If you’re going to search for a record you can share with you and your friends, all of whom love different things from the rock n’ roll musical canon, then Dye It Blonde is assuredly the one for you.