File photograph of Doris Winifred Poole, imprisoned for stealing jewellery and clothing, courtesy of the New South Wales. Dept. of Prisons, 31 July 1924
I was shocked - SHOCKED! - when I started hearing such great buzz about the new Smith Westerns record. As it turns out, I was confused - I had Chicago garage-rock Smith Westerns confused with Decemberists associates Norfolk & Western. I think I've been conflating the two groups for a long time - that may be why I passed on the first Smith Westerns album, even though it had some pretty good buzz when it came out last year. I picked up Dye It Blonde on the strength of the track "All Die Young", a song that evokes the feeling of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass with impressive precision - it also happens to have a great chorus hook.
I figure that, with Dye It Blonde, I have two choices - I can either pretend that I don't need to make the George Harrison comparison, or just come out with it. This album has a VERY heavy George Harrison influence, right down to the influence that Phil Spector had on George Harrison. Smith Westerns' debut had been home-recorded, but this time around the band has a studio's resources to create a "wall of sound". The album's ten tracks all have a reverb-heavy production, but the band makes some smart choices that keeps the whole thing from being an undistinguished mess. They do this by using sounds that cut through the reverb: trebly Harrison-esque guitar leads, keening organ, chiming rising-and-falling synth lines, and, occasionally, a big choir for the chorus. On tracks like "All Die Young", "Imagine Pt. 3", and the woozy closer "Dye the World", the formula comes together perfectly. It helps that these songs also have really strong hooks.
There are three or four tracks on Dye It Blonde that don't make much of an impression due to the album's limited palette, but even those tracks wash over you pleasantly enough. And, for me at least, the album justifies its existence solely with "All Die Young". We're only one month into 2011, but that song is a strong contender for my favorite track of the year. It's two verses and then a big, beautiful chorus that goes on for a long time, but part of you wishes it would go on forever. It's one part "My Sweet Lord" and two parts "Awaiting on You All", and I'm tempted to say it's better than most of the other songs Harrison wrote in the '70s.
"All Die Young" by Smith Westerns