25 July 2008
S*M*A*S*H - Barrabas (Piloted)
Label: Sub Pop
Year of Release: 1994
S*M*A*S*H must surely rank as being one of the most forgotten NME hype bands of all time. Not for them the mocking references reserved for Menswear, or the curious nods given to Godspeed You Black Emporer - they're almost never mentioned at all these days, despite reforming to make another album in 2007.
How different it all was. From the stories, reviews and celebrity plaudits that were given at the time of the band's first singles, you'd have thought that they were the next brave band of American conquerors, the great hope of British music generally. Tales were told of grown men crying in their presence (no, really), frenzied gigs, and an angry, intelligent left wing political agenda (it's difficult to imagine now, but that kind of thing was considered really bloody important to the music press before Britpop came along). Whilst a lot of these stories were bog-standard hyperbole, I did witness S*M*A*S*H live a couple of times and can verify that they were an astonishingly powerful band when on form. At one gig, Joe Strummer stood near the front jumping up and down enthusiastically, which must have seemed like the baton being passed on from one act to another at the time, as well as seeming like a dream come true for the band.
Sadly, it was not to be for them - they wouldn't be on this blog otherwise, would they? This was their last single to generate any press interest, though, their one America-only release put out to try and crack that "all important" market (ambitious as they'd barely cracked their home market at the time). For my money, it's also one of their finest pieces of work, expanding upon their punkish beginnings and creating something which sounded more modern and brittle. There's a marvellous false ending, some brilliant lyrical sloganeering, and lots of unexpected musical twists and turns. The B-side is a cover version of the Afghan Whigs "Turn on the Water", possibly included to seem friendly to the US market.
S*M*A*S*H's initial career was cruelly brief, and they only managed one album ("Self Abused") before disappearing. Nonetheless, when I lived in University Halls of Residence at the time, it could be heard blaring out of various rooms, not least from the room of my immediate neighbour who worshipped them - so there was some truth to the NME's claims that they had an army of devoted young fans. The only lie in that sentence was the use of the word "devoted" - they were as fickle as anyone else, and couldn't wait to drop them as soon as Britpop arrived.
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