SYM Seeks Audience

Musical moodswings document Smith's shifting sentiments as quiet uptempo tunes like "Pitseleh" and slow loud ones like "Amity" embody ambivalence. The fragile, skeletal folk Smith introduced on his '94 solo debut returns on "Tomorrow, Tomorrow" to alternate with fleshed-out tunes such as "Bottle Up & Explode!" that rock not with volume but awareness. Acoustic guitar picking and subdued keyboard plunking take dual lead on "Independence Day" when lesser talents would be cranking amps. The strings of "Waltz #1" and sax on "A Question Mark" aren't slick, but thorny. This unlikely aesthete gets busy with sweet, ornate vocal harmonies throughout, yet goes to town with the f-word. Smith's radiant when the music's glum, despondent as his improved but still shaky drumming strikes up perky toe-tappers, and the arrangements rarely end the same way they begin. Rather than colorizing his art, a major label recording budget has allowed Smith to achieve richer shades of grainy sepia.

"My feelings never change a bit/I always feel like shit/I don't know why/I guess that I just do," Smith harmonizes with himself in the angelic a cappella choir of "I Didn't Understand." A tour de force in miniature, it comes on the heels of the brooding "Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands," where Smith sings about sympathy and sunshine as if they were curses. For this final kiss good-bye our SYM puts on a happy face, singing like the ghost of Nilsson backed by a glee club of adolescent Brian Wilsons who reel you in as the lyrics lay bare the pain behind the pop. "You once talked to me about love," Smith sighs, "And you painted pictures of a never-never land/And I could have gone to that place but I didn't understand/I didn't understand/I didn't understand." The background oohs and ahhs conclude the melody until the noise of the outside world once again takes over, leaving the listener more alone than ever.

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