– this review was originally published here at This Is Not a Drill –
‘The Suck’ makes me think of ‘Waterloo Sunset’ by way of Smith Western’s ‘Weekend’. It’s fairly superficial, just the ooh-ooh-ooh, and I’m sure The Kinks didn’t even do it first, but that’s the way memory works. There are millions of docks in the world too but they’ll always remind me of where I grew up in Amsterdam’s Eastern Docklands. Anyway, ‘The Suck’ is perfect in its imperfection. (I know, clichés suck, but hopefully that pun redeems me). It’s got the right amount of fuzz. What is the right amount of fuzz? It’s hard to say. Sometimes I think I hate fuzz, because a song I hate is fuzzy, but then another fuzzy song gets me going and I start to doubt.
If you can’t explain, illustrate. So we’re gonna do the following. Below is a line. Above the line are songs with the right amount of fuzz. Below the line are songs which fuzz crams my ears in a bad way. Easy, innit?
Shop Assistants; The Vaselines; Slowdive; The Jesus and Mary Chain
Pavement; Ride; Tame Impala; Evans the Death
Got it? Let me try again, this time with the songs off Useless Smile:
‘Always Running’; ‘The Suck’; ‘Noland (2 Souls in Confusion)’, ‘Plane to See’
‘U Suck’; ‘We Are They That Ache With Amorous Love’; ‘I’ll Take My Chances’
Hmm. Makes me seem as if I only like the songs without the fuzz. It’s true, though. Take ‘Noland (2 Souls in Confusion)’. It’s heartbreaking. So gentle. So clean. It’s a confessional story in the style of the Shangri-Las, but without any of the theatre. And it gets me. I can feel the pain, the longing, the confused love, all those fucking clichés, and I’ll tell you: I wouldn’t have felt them if they’d been covered by a pile of stinky noise. Nothing that is cloudy can be heartbreaking.
‘Always Running’ ditto. Warm, no fuzz, just the right amount of mess and sadness. It is – and I mean this comparison in a good way – a song like a recorder: it’s got a pure tone, an admirable simplicity, it reminds you of childhood and it sounds just a bit off. These are the moments when The Sloppy Heads excel.
I don’t wanna sound all black and white though. ‘The Suck’ gets me jumping and twisting – twisting especially! – the same way ‘Son of a Gun’ by the Vaselines does (and there’s an example of the right amount of fuzz ‘n’ buzz; but listen how clear those voices used to sound back in the day, it’s as if today’s musicians have misremembered a whole decade of tunes, their snotty heads filled with, well, snot like they’ve got the worst cold). Elsewhere there’s ‘Plane to See’ and although I do find this song annoying, I can’t deny it: the right amount again. I just can’t stand that distorted singing. It’s the worst fuzz there is. How can I hear you, when you mess up your voice? WTF. But the instrumental second half is ace. Reminds me of my darlings Frozy, the only kids with a clear head in town. And then there’s ‘Suddenly Spills’, warm, sleepy, and boring. It sounds like Low but Slowdive would’ve been better. (Nothing against Low, but it’s telling that my favourite song of theirs has that guitar).
So overall, Useless Smile is pretty good. It’s more than a bit inconsistent, with a completely superfluous past the ten minute mark song towards the end (seriously?! what’s the point of everything after the first 60 seconds? you’re no Jesus and the Mary Chain) and a couple of annoying ones down the road. The album as a whole – doesn’t sound like a whole. It sounds like various demo’s thrown together with bedroom recordings and two or three finished songs. But when they’re good, they’re good. And to be honest, ‘The Suck’ is such a gem that people in 30 years are gonna find it complain why they didn’t write more of those. So hopefully they will.
-- Caspar Jacobs, February 7, 2017