Album Review: Smith Street Band, “Throw Me In The River”

Trust me, you know Wil Wagner, even if you’ve never heard of him. No matter if you’ve never heard a Smith Street Band album, Wil is instantly recognizable in someone you know, someone you love. Wil is every Australian’s best friend from when they were kids, he’s your brokenhearted first boyfriend you’ll never get over, he’s the ratbag from primary school that surprised everyone by jumping on stage and pouring his heart out. He’s the guy at the party who uses humour to cut through anxiety, he’s the one you end up in an earnest conversation with that will probably change your life. Wil is a character in the stories you tell about your mates, just like you – yes, you – are a feature in the songs that he sings. You recognise him in the people you know and love, and you recognize yourself in his lyrics. There is a universality to the specificity of the lyrics – images of cardboard windows, arsehole taxi drivers and mornings-after under the sheets are familiar, detailed snapshots into a world we know well. As soon as one of Smith Street Band’s songs strikes a chord in you, you’re under the spell and there is little hope of resolve. I can remember the moment Wil got me – I was going for a run, listening to some solo stuff I hadn’t heard before, and when I listened close enough to realise it was his little sister that he was calling his “Little Sinking Ship” I literally stopped in my tracks. Since then the Smith Street Band has not so much been listened to but devoured and I’ve been more of a disciple than a fan.

This familiarity, this easygoing all-encompassing charisma of the Smith Street Band’s frontman Wil Wagner, is what sends Australian crowds into flurries and fevers at their sold-out shows. I have seen grown men weep, I have seen strangers embrace, I have come out of a Smith Street Band mosh pit with bruises that may as well have been hickies for all the love and warmth of the crowd. This mirror effect of an audience looking up on stage and seeing themselves, of shouting along to songs that seem written about their friends and their nights out and their exes, is the distinguishing factor that lifts Smith Street Band out of the melee of Australian punk and pub rock and carves a niche in your heart and soul forever. And now, with a thrashing fury and dashing charm, Smith Street Band have unfurled their third album “Throw Me Into the River” with the same irreverence and whole hearted sincerity that brought them out of the backalleys of Melbourne and onto the international stage.

The Melbourne four piece have just been brought home early from touring the States by a family emergency. This wraps up a tour that seems to have been eternal, taking them across Europe and North America with The Bennies and The Menzingers. Known as one of the hardest working and hard touring bands in Australia, “Throw Me In The River” is a testament to their whirlwind schedule of the last few years with not only their trademark Australian landscapes taking centrestage but imagery that takes you across the hot and dusty states of America, to barren Canadian hotel rooms and down murky London streets. “Throw Me In The River” shows us how the Smith Street Band have had their eyes opened by the world, by their success, and by the extremities of their own personal lives.

There have been some changes to the production of this record in contrast to “Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams” and “Sunshine and Technology.” In recent interviews, Wil Wagner and guitarist Chris Cowburn spoke of the novelty of stretching the recording process over two months, as opposed to previous albums which have only been days in the studio of live performance tracks. There are additions and refinements in the instrumentals that the extra time has allowed for, strings appearing here and there and guitar licks and hooks sharpened to a high fidelity point. While Wil still has his same brash vulnerability, the sound certainly has been sophisticated since the early days of youthful thrashing. You hear it in The Arrogance of the Drunk Pedestrian, with simple, summery guitar beginnings and a title that every listener will relate to building to a raucous finish that would stir a stadium to its feet. Through a ragged, weary opening, a dejected chorus of “When I said this was all I had I meant it” to a passionate cry of “We’ll keep on through this shitstorm”, The Arrogance of the Drunk Pedestrian is a call to jump and thrash and kick out at whatever unfortunate inanimate objects are nearby. By the end, the guitar strings are being punished as Wil screams goodbye over battling drums and a bass near enough to snapping in the cathartic highpoint of the album.

The album is relentless in its driving, force of nature passion that takes you from the emotional highs of Surrender, the first single from the album and a triumphant middle finger to conformity, to the deeply upsetting Calgary Girls, packed with the gut punching lyrical realism that has already made it a fan favourite. Calgary Girls serves as something of a breather after being thrown through the first three tracks, and draws you in with rough-as-guts romanticism and self destructive, self deprecating overtones. There is a tragic hopefulness to much of the lyrics in this new album, a naivety both uplifting and carrying a sense of foreboding. But where we might be concerned listening to The Arrogance of the Drunk Pedestrian and Throw Me In The River, we are brought back by the album closer I Love Life, a stirring, shout-along five and a half minute anthem that rekindles the fire with punching drums and chanting vocals, returning us to Something That I Could Hold In My Hands to complete the album and return us, spent and satisfied, to the emotional plateau of real life from which we started.

Smith Street Band fans are going to love the classic sound of “Throw Me In The River”, though the turn away from garage-sounding live production to extended studio tracking won’t suit everyone’s taste. This is an album non-fans will be able to love, that will open new listeners to one of the most unique sounding and passionate bands you can see live. With Wil’s brutal sounding vocals and full-force orchestration, you may not first understand why you like Smith Street Band, but as Wil once said of their songwriting, “People might not understand what you are saying, but they understand that you mean it.”

The Smith Street Band are touring now with The Front Bottoms and Apologies I Have None

Wed 19th Nov – Brisbane Hotel, Hobart – With This Is A Robbery – http://thesmithstreetband.oztix.com.au/?eventId=46176

Thu 20th Nov – The Gov, Adelaide – ALL AGES – With Grenadiers – SOLD OUT!!!

Fri 21st – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane – With Kiri – SOLD OUT!!!

Sat 22nd – Manning Bar, Sydney – With Oslow – SOLD OUT!!!

Sun 23rd – Zierholz @ UC , Canberra – With Pinch Hitter – SOLD OUT!!!

Mon 24th – Factory Theatre, Sydney – ALL AGES – With Fait Accompli – http://www.factorytheatre.com.au/tickets/ftickets.php?gigid=5694

Wed 26th – Corner Hotel, Melbourne – With Fear Like Us – SOLD OUT!!!

Thu 27th – Corner Hotel, Melbourne – With Max Goes To Hollywood – SOLD OUT!!!

Fri 28th – Corner Hotel, Melbourne – With Foxtrot – SOLD OUT!!!

Sat 29th – Rosemount Hotel, Perth – With Flowermouth – SOLD OUT!!!

Sun 30th – The Railway Hotel Beer Garden, Fremantle – With Grim Fandango – SOLD OUT!!!