By Dave Thompson
Acoustic Sessions Volume 2
TVS 3 (1 CD, available from https://tvsmith.co.uk)
Among the handful of highlights that we could possbly pull from lockdown, the most precious surely include the on-line live shows that vanquished the void between Doing Nothing and Doing Nothing Again. One day, some enterprising music historian will publish a book (or, better yet, a box set!) to document this peculiar era, but in the meantime TV Smith serves up at least a brief memory-jogger.
Smith was one of the most prolific performers throughout those days, with his output highlighted by no less than twelve 90-or-so minute shows during which he performed absolutely every song he has ever written, consuming eleven solo albums, two with the Adverts, and one apiece with Sleaze, Cheap and TV Smith’s Explorers.
To which can be added a clutch of b-sides, bonus tracks and oddities, two CDs worth of unreleased demos and even a few songs that even he had forgotten, but of which someone, somewhere, had a brief, muffled, cassette recording. Yeah, in terms of “everything plus the kitchen sink,” Smith threw in the washing machine and the fridge/freezer too.
And, in so doing, he confirmed that according to any reasonable definition of the term, he is one of the most potent British songwriters of the past half-century.
Acoustic Sessions Volume 2 is not taken directly from the Lockdown shows. Rather, as the follow-up to volume one a few years back, it features 17 newly recorded songs. The spirit, however, is the same — this is TV, his guitar and a gathering of greats that takes us from the Adverts through to almost-the-present-day, and the title track of 2018’s Land of the Overdose. Nothing from last year’s Lockdown Holiday, then, but we’ll forgive him. What could he have omitted to make way for it?
Neither does he pick “the easy ones” — “Bombsite Boy,” of course, was the Adverts at their incendiary peak; the Explorers’ “Tomahawk Cruise” a riot of dynamic riffs and synth… you get the picture. But, even acoustic, Smith’s energy is contagious and, after a while, you wonder why he ever bothered with a band. Certainly the opening “Runaway Train Driver” catapults forward with all the adrenalin that the title demands, and songs like “Clone Town,” “One Million Pounds,” “Can’t Pay Won’t Pay” and “Statute of Liberty” have both lyrics and leanings that don’t need electricity. (Not that we could afford it, the way things are going today.)
There’s also a welcome airing for “Trojan Horse,” a dark conspiracy of a song that Smith first recorded with his then-regular band of Tim Renwick (Pink Floyd, Al Stewart, David Bowie) and Tim Cross (Mike Oldfield) back in 1984, but which intrigues and illuminates as much now as ever. Which — and this is where Smith’s songwriting streaks ahead of so many others — can also be said for most every other track on this album (and all his others, too.). Lots of people can nail the concerns of any given moment in time. Few indeed pick the concerns that will still need nailing in decades to come.
Maybe we’re all bored teenagers at heart.