Guitar tones. A good one can rule a tune in ways tight harmonies and slick production can’t touch. If you’ve got a snappy hook-hitching guitar tone, especially one that hasn’t been plundered since the 70’s, you’re well on your way. But these things are like parachutes and get out of jail free cards, you only use them when you have to. What makes Smith Western’s Dye It Blonde equally great and equally frustrating, is that same guitar tone, that AM-radio sanctifying slice of Eagles/America-na (the latter’s “Sister Golden Hair“ comes to mind), is used almost entirely throughout each song.
It’s as if the guitarist went (after tweaking pedals and pick-ups) ‘I’ve got the sound for the album!!’ and literally stuck to it. You’ll know what I’m talking about, 3 seconds into opener “Weekend” and every track after that. But ultimately, what’s worse, making an album that sounds flat and unappealing or pulling out the magic fuzz tone that screams ‘check this shit out!’? Consider this your get out of jail free card.
Dye It Blonde is dreamy string-bending psychedelic rock and roll at its finest, lit up by a trio of post-adolescent dreamers led by brothers Cullen and Cameron Omori from Chicago. Just listen to “Still New” for that classic T-Rex 70’s harmonic sumptuousness as it rolls into “Imagine Pt.3” which replicates Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky”, piano/drums happy as a pig in shit jauntiness while strapping on some Bolan platforms and kicking out, which you know, for lovers of Bolan and Lynne, this is like a new dawning, and what’s more, they’re just kids. They don’t teach this in school, yet they’ve somehow stumbled onto the cornerstones of rock n’ roll which made the 70’s such a moonage daydream and a fertile ground to go digging around in.
Produced and engineered by Chris Coady (Beach House, Cold Cave) it’s as if he’s understood where Smith Westerns are coming from and given them the room to fill out their sound and make the kind of record they hinted at on their home-recorded debut. Dye It Blonde is love at first listen, lovesick and lovelorn, full of age-defining quandaries like “love and lust, how come that is such a must?” which only make the band more endearing, and by the time the final track rolls around, only then have Smith Westerns used every trick in their arsenal and are starting to suffer from a case of “haven’t we heard this already-itis?”. But if they’ve managed to make the illusion last that long, it’s still one hell of a trick, and this is one hell of an album.