Album Review: S*M*A*S*H* – “Goodbye WGC”
Way back in 1993-94 or so, there used to be a music scene called the New Wave of New Wave. Headed up by the amphetamine-charged brilliance of These Animal Men, it burned bright for six months or so before the music press watered it down, rechristened it Britpop and you can probably guess the rest. A fair few of the poppier NWONW bands (Elastica, Ash, Supergrass etc) were quickly reassigned to the Britpop bandwagon, but for the more out-and-out punk groups, it was pretty much a death blow.
S*M*A*S*H*, along with the likes of Compulsion and Mantaray, were one such band. Hailing from Welwyn Garden City, their furiously confrontational yet thought-provoking brand of sped-up punk rock garnered them two Top 30 hits (Shame and the Tory baiting all-time classic I Wanna Kill Somebody), but their shelf life was pretty much done by the time Britpop arrived, and they’d split by the time 1995 was out. And that, it seemed, was that.
The mid-noughties, however, saw S*M*A*S*H* reform and they’ve been around ever since. Buoyed by last year’s critically acclaimed NWONW documentary Flawed Is Beautiful, Goodbye WGC (the WGC referring to their hometown, see above) is their third album. However, this is pretty much an unrecognisable band sound-wise from the one that disappeared off our radar in the Oasis era. If anything, it sounds like they’ve set their controls squarely for 1981 as Art Therapy and Erin evoke memories of the goth/new wave sounds of Echo and The Bunnymen and The Psychedelic Furs. It’s almost certainly the last thing you were expecting, but when it works such as on I Thought I Was Right, there’s no denying it works very well. Although there’s some tunes such as the PIL-style art rock of Hedy Lamarr and Secret Bruise where it just sounds a bit of a mess unfortunately.
There’s more good than bad here though, and the epic seven minute title track is definitely the best example of S*M*A*S*H*’s evolution since their brief brush with chart success. Namechecking both the Stranglers (Goodbye Toulouse) and David Bowie (Let’s Dance), it doesn’t outstay its welcome despite its length, and the sax and piano even conjures up images of Roxy Music. Again, almost certainly not what you were expecting.
Closing track, You In Me (Blondes And Guns) is probably the closest thing on here to the S*M*A*S*H* sound of old, a sped up tale of self-loathing, but even this is pretty different to how they were twenty years ago with a more restrained take on things. It kind of sums up the album well – the sound of an older and wiser band, but one that still knows how to keep your interest.
Goodbye WGC is pretty much a clean break from S*M*A*S*H*'s old frenetic punk sound, but they've carried it off surprisingly well. Not every track here hits the spot but there's plenty to keep you interested and it proves to be a surprisingly intriguing listen. So yeah - S*M*A*S*H* are growing old gracefully. Who saw that one coming?