Smith Westerns exude a youthful exuberance reminiscent of early Supergrass, who were also teenagers when their first few albums were released. This might turn away some potential listeners, but it shouldn't. I remind myself that Paul Weller--the leader of my personal favorite band--was 19 years old when The Jam's second album was released. The oldest member of Smith Westerns is probably about that age now, and this band is also on its second album.
Dye It Blonde sounds like an album by a group of younger-than-twenty-somethings, but not necessarily ones who were born in the early 90s. Smith Westerns sound as though they listened more to their parents' LPs than to their own CDs or MP3s.
Musically, rambunctious guitars and swirling organs give the songs a sturdy backbone. The lyrics on the album are never particularly deep, but are sometimes deceptively shallow. I mean that as a compliment. The lyrics to The New Pornographers' "Letter From an Occupant" are mostly stupid, but Neko Case delivers them so convincingly that one cannot help but forgive them and sing along. Something similar can be said for songs like "All Die Young", on which lead singer Cullen Omori clearly has something meaningful to say even if he cannot find the strongest enough words to say it.
If nothing else, listeners should admire Dye It Blonde for its consistency. "Weekend", the first track, is enjoyable but kind of dumb. However, all of the songs from "Still New" (track #2) to "Smile" (track #8) are pretty darn good, and equally so. If you like one of them, you will probably like them all. This is not to mention "Dye the World", which ends the album on a more assuring note than the song preceding it--the trite "Dance Away"--would have.
The reason for my three-and-a-half star rating is that the songs are usually good but never really great. No particular song stands out, even though several of them stand strongly together. Of course, a single stand-out track is not essential to make a great record, and Dye It Blonde sinks in a bit more with each listen. That is a lot to say about an album that does not have a great deal of depth. If it sinks in enough, one will eagerly look forward to future repeat listens.
I am not certain of how this album will appeal to college students and others who are in their 20s. To my fellow thirtysomethings, however, I say this: There is a good chance that Wes Anderson might find some soundtrack material on this album. Hopefully, the 400-some words that I have written about Dye It Blonde say more about how much I enjoy it than do the three-and-a-half stars that I have awarded to its overall quality.