REVIEW: Smith & Burrows – Only Smith & Burrows Is Good Enough

‘When the Thames Froze’ is a brilliant Christmas song, one of the few legitimately great post-2000 ones. If you haven’t heard it, give it a listen and thank me later. It’s a melancholy but anthemic piano ballad that manages to be moving without being schmaltzy. The album it appeared on wasn’t quite up to the same standard but was still proof of the songwriting talents of the Editors frontman and (former) Razorlight drummer.

Having heard nothing from them since, I was surprised (and excited) to discover that a follow-up was on the cards. Sadly, whilst far from being awful, the resulting record is a frustrating one. If that sounds like I’m berating it for not being what I want it to be, perhaps there’s an element of truth in that. But it’s only because, having seen what they are capable of when working together and firing on all cylinders, the songs presented here seem hit and miss and thrown together in comparison.

Part of the problem is that the album can’t quite work out what it wants to be. The overall style is melodic, adult-friendly, Radio 2 pop, but the lyrical content and tone veers wildly between lighter, throw-away material seemingly delivered with a knowing smirk, and more earnest, heartfelt offerings. The jarring contrasts seem less a conscious decision, and more the result of a side-project that hasn’t really worked out what its aims are.

It’s when operating in the latter vein that the album is at its strongest. ‘Old TV Shows’ is shot through with nostalgia, looking back at the past from the present of a broken relationship. The pettiness of the line “I’m not listening to you when you’re not listening to me / Like you listen to sad songs” is particularly effective. ‘Parliament Hill’ is another strong offering – it’s overly rich in its use of poetic imagery, but there is something engagingly sincere about that. ‘Too Late’ is also effective, capturing a relationship at the point at which it is soon to be over, but its participants don’t yet realise that.

But in amongst the songs that do work, there are too many that don’t. ‘Buccanneer Rum Jum’ is saddled with both an awful title and a gratingly cheesy style that sounds like a Flight of the Conchords pastiche of ‘Se a Vida E’ by the Pet Shop Boys. Meanwhile the portrayal of a self-serving, destructive character on ‘Spaghetti’ is let down by the clunkingly awful simile that makes up the chorus and song title.

These ill-judged decisions of tone and style contribute to the feeling that the project was rushed and only partially thought through – something engaged in by two mates as a way of passing the time. It’s a shame, as there are winningly emotional moments on the album’s stronger tracks. With a clearer vision of what they wanted the record to be, and a bit more quality control, this could have been an engaging listen. Instead, it contains some great songs and several you will want to flick past without returning to.

Words by Will Collins

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