Smudge + Little Scout live @ The Troubadour, 09.10.10
Watching Smudge tonight it’s really hard not to feel incredibly nostalgic. It’s not just that the band are part of the audience’s past, tied to a 1990s discography and not having released an album since 1998’s Real McCoy, Wrong Sinatra, but something much deeper than that; it’s a nostalgia for bands like Smudge.
Once there was a time when indie rock bands turned up on stage wearing jeans, a t-shirt, pair of cons or a pair of docs and just played their songs. Nowadays your average indie band is fully resplendent in suit jackets, shirts, brogues, even flat caps. And even cravats. Cravats? When did it all get so middle-aged? There’s a rough-round-the-edges charm to Smudge; these were songs that were recorded, mixed and ready to go after an afternoon in the studio. Indie bands now seem to spend six months and more recording albums. People used to point and laugh at Phil Collins taking three days to get the right drum sound. Three days? What a joke! You could make a whole album in that time!
Mixing and mastering strips away the dynamics and makes sure that any evidence that maybe the songs once had a rawness and a human element is kept to a minimum. Everything’s so polished, slick, so formulated; it all conforms to a modern indie rock template, even as far as the length of the songs. Smudge songs that go over three minutes are a rarity; they’re lean and trim. There’s no flab in the form of extended introductions or outros, no need to repeat the chorus one more time just to make the song another 25 seconds longer, get it up to a round three-and-a-half minutes so they’ll play it on the radio. They’ve got The Food Trilogy: three songs – ‘Focaccia’, ‘Babaganouj’ and ‘Steak & Chips’ – lasting less than a minute in total. Your average careerist indie musician wouldn’t ever contemplate the thought that maybe a couple of lines and a few chords could be a whole song. Where would the middle eight go?
Smudge have the songs, classic two-and-a-half minute pop songs. In another 20 years they’ll still be two-and-a-half minute classic pop songs, they’re timeless. Good songs always are. From ‘Mike Love Not War’, ‘Lighten Up Hank’, ‘Don’t Want To Be Grant McLennan’ to the Evan Dando-affiliated ‘Down About It’, ‘Tenderfoot’, ‘The Outdoor Type’, ‘Divan’ (tonight sang by two guys plucked from the audience who do a really good job of it), Tom Morgan writes great tunes, he has an exemplary turn of phrase and ear for a killer melody and Smudge have great songs because of it. Once, good songs were important. Now radio stations want a ‘backstory’ before they’ll play you; the songs on their own aren’t enough. If you want to get ahead and be noticed you need to provide details of Media achievements (last 12 months) – radio, reviews, on line action, database numbers etc, Current team – international and domestic recording, publishing, sync, distribution, managers, agents, etc, Current export target markets and plans; the songs on their own aren’t enough.
Smudge have the songs; everything else is superfluous, as it should be. It’s easy to be nostalgic for Smudge and for the time the band and their songs played a part in your life; it’s even easier to be nostalgic for a time when bands like Smudge could thrive just by writing a good song or two.