The chorus to ‘Movie Loves A Screen’, the opening track of Songs For A Sinking Ship, contains a pleading refrain of “I just wanna mean something to you”, set to a 1950s classic American diner jukebox rhythm. It seems April Smith needn’t worry as she clearly means a lot to quite a considerable number of people; the studio time required to lay down this track, and indeed the other ten on the record, was paid for by her own fans rummaging through their wallets and purses via the Kickstarter.com website.
It’s not hard to see why these loyal folk dug deep for Brooklyn-based Smith and her associates; even a cursory listen to this latest offering reveals enough to pique the interest, be it the demonstrably strong vocals from Smith on occasion, or a clever turn of lyric here and there. The latter is perhaps most evident from the swaying, staggering standout ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’, which turns out not to be a compliment so much as an acid-tongued putdown to a lover blessed with beauty but not brains, with a particularly vicious sting in the tale of the chorus (“If you’re just drop dead gorgeous you should just drop dead”).
It’s not the kind of thing you’d expect from the innocent-looking Smith, and she changes mood for subsequent track ‘Can’t Say No’ with jazzy brass and barroom piano turning the song into a drunken confession of helplessness before her infatuation.
The good-time hoedown of ‘Colours’ marks the mid-point of the album and is the most upbeat offering here; sounding much like a splicing together of My Chemical Romance’s ‘Teenagers’ and The Beatles’ ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ (perhaps not surprising given the list of influences cited on the band’s Myspace). Despite being derivative it is an undoubtedly charming knees-up, but unfortunately it also heralds the beginning of a rather flat second half to the record.
From here on in the invention is sadly lacking: ‘Beloved’ and ‘Dixie Boy’ don’t have the conviction to back up their sentiments and pass by uneventfully, while the lolloping ‘The One That Got Away’ and the slightly more urgent ‘Wow & Flutter’ feel all too familiar.
The production is glossy throughout and has a distinctly “step right up” carnival/vaudevillian feel, but despite this the piece as a whole lacks coherence – one minute Smith is helplessly in slave to her feelings for an unseen man, the next she is playing the cooly detached woman in charge. The result is no real sustained mood, and a feeling that many of these songs were written not because they had to be, but merely to fill an album. Perhaps this could be due to the fact that many of them may not be so new; Smith herself states on the band’s website that these are “ALL NEW RECORDINGS of the songs, so even if you’ve heard them, you’ve never heard them sound THIS good!”
It’s obvious that April Smith & The Great Picture Show desperately wanted to make this album, and equally obvious that they had a ball doing so, but in the clamour to do so it seems a degree of consistency was omitted. And it’s a shame as there is enough here to suggest they can do far, far better. Undoubtedly their best work is ahead of them, but in the mean time this album should ensure their fans don’t have to raid their piggy banks again just yet.
[Little Roscoe; February 23, 2010]