For more than a decade, The Smith Street Band have been producing hard-hitting, heart-wrenching, and heavy-sounding music for the seemingly iron-hearted, but actually soft-centred youth. Conceived on the titular Smith Street, nestled amongst the gentrified streets of inner-city Melbourne, TSSB have established a signature sound that reflects the frustrations of a generation growing up in an increasingly-fractured and decreasingly-empathetic world.
TSSB’s discography has carried an episodic narrative that takes its fans through chapters of adolescent instability, a sobering coming-of-age, and the competing forces of resistance and acceptance towards life that battle it out thereafter. TSSB has songs for sunny days, for drunken nights, and for the slow and saddening moments that scatter themselves in between. Their lyrics vehemently and unreservedly expose every confronting and corrupted thought the writer has ever had, for the audience to pick apart and find in them reflections of themselves.
Late last year, the band released their latest edition to an evolutionary series of albums: Life After Football. In an effort to accentuate the sentimentalism of this latest Smith Street chapter, I purchased the record on vinyl. I set up shop with a glass of wine, and opened my ears to their most recent interpretation of this thing we call life.
Before the record even begins spinning, I’m thrust into TSSB’s signature upbeat sound that radiates a pragmatic sense of hope. I’m immediately struck by the familiarity of their refreshingly sobering lyrics, crafted specifically for the conflicted and confused youth:
I want to make great art that doesn’t sell
Tell a couple of contemporaries to go to hell
I don’t know how to save the planet
But complaining doesn’t help
The way that TSSB’s music has evolved in this album is evident from the very start. In contrast to the darker, more tender sound of their earlier days, this album exhibits a matured sense of perseverance and of liberation. Their lyrics, however, remain just as raw and just as humble.
The record flows into the second track, which maintains this hopeful tone – yet, the lyrics present a stark contrast:
Can’t get much closer
Can’t get much closer than this
I’m scared of the future
There’s always something amiss
This track encompasses TSSB’s style of sad, existential-crisis-style lyrics, juxtaposed with the fervent thrashing of guitar and drums. You are forced to dance and sing to the thing(s) that cause you pain – and that’s the magic of the Smithies.
Following a promising entrance into the album, one that encompasses the legacy of TSSB and encapsulates what you are set to expect with their new sound, you’re abruptly – and quite rudely – thrown into Everyone Is Lying To You For Money.
This track epitomises both the best and the worst of this album. Frankly, the song is awful. The robotic repetitiveness is akin to nails running down a chalkboard. But TSSB’s music is not – never has been, and never will be – written for the satiation of its audience.
Their music is fundamentally and overtly the raw and undiluted expression of a human’s own experience of humanness, no matter how confronting or uncomfortable that may be. And so, as much as I hate this song (and I really do hate this song), I can’t help but recognise the signature trope of the Smithies shining through, and appreciate its jarring nature as a metaphor for the message it seeks to consolidate.
The record moves quite comfortably back into that signature, symbol-smashing, emotionally-charged sound for Dilute and for the title track. Life After Football does a particularly good job of creating an encapsulating emotional journey of highs and lows, and so I immediately recognise it’s potential. It’s the way a song moves you that makes it stick to your memory, that makes you sing it mindlessly at work, that makes you download it to your playlist and play it on repeat until it becomes your favourite song. Life After Football is one of these tracks.
Finally, I’m gifted with the taste of melancholy that I so desperately crave in TSSB’s music. Black T-Shirt sets the stage for lead singer Wil’s voice to exhibit its melodic potential, which I have almost forgotten about amongst all the hollering throughout the rest of the track. Black T-Shirt is the ‘soft’ song that is absolutely required to balance out the intensity of the album, and have it holistically represent the sound of the Smithie’s.
A Conversation With Your Old School Friends About Negative Gearing delivers the cherry on top of the TSSB cake, with some refreshing, cut-throat political cynicism that makes you grit your teeth with satisfaction:
No one’s better at cocaine than these young liberals
That’s both true to life and entirely metaphorical
The album climaxes with I Don’t Wanna Do Nothing Forever, the lead single that follows the perfect recipe for a fan-favourite. It’s real, it’s loud, it’s electric and it’s emotive. After another couple of good-but-not-great, characteristically Smith Street songs, Life After Football concludes with a sense of resolution and absolution in I Deserve Love. This track is so boldly self-acknowledging, and it leaves the listener with a sense of clarity following the intense and sometimes overpowering journey throughout the album.
The electricity and the finality of Life After Football may make it, in some sense, TSSB’s best album yet. But compared to the more poignant and emotive structure of their elementary music, it to stick to my heart strings in a way that cements it as a favourite. The tone of the album is primarily jarring, and a lot less agreeable than their previous work. But at the cost of the listener’s comfort, the Smithies have executed in this album what they do best – they have unashamedly conveyed their own truth. While I can decisively say that Life After Football is not a favourite, it does maintain the core aspects of TSSB’s music that secure my love and respect for them.
Final rating: 8/10
Favourite song: Black T-Shirt
Original photos by Caitlin Young