When Smith Westerns first jumped onto the scene two years ago, they were just a ragtag group of kids (all under 20 years old) making surprisingly mature Nuggets-era garage rock. The songs on their self-titled debut were full of spunk, energy and enough great hooks to make your head spin. Two years later, they’ve released their much-anticipated follow-up and, maybe a little unexpectedly, they’re following right in the footsteps of their idols.
The 13th Floor Elevators, a 60s garage staple, turned heads with their debut, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, but fell short when trying to mature on their sophomore album, Easter Everywhere (just compare “You’re Gonna Miss Me” to “Slip Inside This House”). Pacific Northwest garage band The Sonics also lost some of their edge making a second record (but it’s pretty hard to match the energy on “The Witch”). Some 5 decades later, the Smith Westerns find themselves in a very similar situation.
While Dye It Blonde is by no means a failure, it does fail to capture the same youthful energy of Smith Westerns. The songs that made the band an instant hit were short, fuzzed out and infectiously catchy. Each track stuck for days and exerted a kind of fantastic song writing that can only come naturally. It sounded like the band being themselves, writing what they knew.
Now, after widespread success in the indie world, Smith Westerns are doing what every good garage band does, they’re aiming for respect. They’ve already proven capable of making quick pop hits, and now they seem to be out to prove capable of making well-written, more intricate pieces. What comes out is a more polished record, but who ever said polish is a good thing? If anything, it softens the band’s sound and groups them in with all the other generic indie-rock throwaways in the world.
To reiterate, however, it’s not a failure. The album’s lead singles, “Weekend” and “All Die Young” are great tracks, harking back to the Smith Westerns we remember and the Smith Westerns that could be, respectively. Most of the rest of the album is full of over-produced filler that doesn’t live up to the potential this band exhibited two years ago. I applaud the effort to improve a rough sound, but that natural song-writing ability that won over so many can’t be forced through a bright, shiny new microphone and come out the same. I hate to say it, but without the old charm, Smith Westerns have become something to which they once stood so starkly in contrast: They’ve become generic.
Buy Dye It Blonde now on Fat Possum.