Kicking off with the pitter patter of tiny drum beats on Aeroplanes, Pigs Etc you immediately think you know the score with Aidan Smith’s new CD Fancy Barrel. Here is a wistful album of childlike masculine simplicity and joy with more than a passing resemblance to a barrel of influences from Badly Drawn Boy and Blur to The Kinks, Sid Barrett’s Pink Floyd and evenThe Small Faces. But listener beware: inside Fancy Barrel is a web of intelligence that will capture you with its charm and cunning musicality.
The adopted Mancunian is a man who likes words and knows how to use them. And wow does he enjoy himself playing with clever phrasing, both literary and musical. He is a technician of the twisting image whether telling stories of lost souls and lonely men betrayed by errant women (The Cuckold) or struggling musicians, (Song For Manchester).
Repeatedly he plays with sound and story in a way that makes the listener feel giddy and as bipolar as a teenager’s hormones in their extremes of emotion, as on Love Song (With Aneurysm) and Jam Will Suffice.
Previous outings by Smith have given the impression that he is a writer of chirpy little ditties that bring a smile to your face, nothing deeper. Fancy Barrel challenges that notion.
He has a poet’s skill for striking imagery that cuts to the heart of dejection and the need for solace. Nowhere on the album is this more apparent than on Everytime I Lean I Fall Asleep in which his voice, as wistful as an autumn sunset, sings: “I would like to hammer nails into the sun”. Icarus couldn’t have put it better.
Smith is a man who wears his influences on his sleeves, there is even a dash of Cole Porter in the clever rhyming on Vaudeville and more than an echo of Arthur Lee’s psychedelic nightmares on both Alone, Askew and Words Waltz Like Flies. Everything is Boring and Basslines & Shapes would not have been out of place on Blur’s Parklife.
But despite the strength of these influences, Smith is an original thanks to his linguistic dexterity, which is a joy to hear in a pop world in which even the best-rated bands seem to find it hard to break out of cliched sentiment and tired phrasing.
Smith’s appeal is the same as that of Devendra Banhart, though the delivery is very different. He manages to construct songs of sentiment with skill but the minimum of fuss. They seem child-like in their simplicity but listen carefully and an awesome intelligence and wry humour is revealed. Both is much needed in an industry where far lesser talents take themselves much too seriously.