Black Smokers, Used
Although they are “passionate about the blues tradition and hate following the rules,” I wasn’t really impressed by Black Smokers’ music; they could tighten it up a bit. They definitely have an edgy, European-wish-they-were-American rock sound, with underlying country tones. On the first track, “Hey Mama,” singer Marcello Milanese begins with a raspy, growling Tom Waits voice, which works nicely at first but begins losing its attractive edginess by the third song. Several of the tracks sound like Reverend Horton Heat meets The Stones trying to go country, with an awkward rock melody and unconvincing singer with an Italian accent. Overall, the band’s songs are listenable, but they’re an Italian band converting to American blues roots and rock, even though I doubt they’ve ever lived in some Mississippi swamp. It’s well studied and tightly constructed for its genre, but the feeling and raw, underlying soul of it just isn’t there. Truthfully, I have a very difficult time believing much of the message.
The slide guitar on “Kickboxer Girl” is really cool and the singer delivers a story in that Waits-y, blues-ish way on “Rain on the Ocean,” but by the fourth track, “Wanna Wait,” I was getting rather bored. Imagine a well-versed University professor dictating poetry from behind the window of the classroom while the man with 40-ounce on the corner is relaying lyrics to a group of people like a reverend. I don’t mean to be too hard on these guys — they’ve put together an extremely organized and tight CD. Maybe that’s the problem: it’s too organized, tight, and structured, so there isn’t much free-form emotion.
On the fifth track, “Bullet Proof,” Milanese begins with what seems to be a “rehearsed,” vomit-sounding intro that’s supposed to be sexy. “Used” is an amazing track, probably because the band members took a lot of the elements to which they were subjecting us out of the music and instead addressed a late-night bar sound without the pretentiousness. “What the Hell” incorporates more slide and blues/rock chords, but I’m burnt out already.
Black Smokers slack off a bit through the middle of the CD but then delve in deeper towards the end. On “Cheap Women,” they get crazyrockfunky by throwing a theremin into the intro, but the unpredictability gradually slips away by the time the chorus moves in. It’s a great song; I sense their frustration with drunk and cheap women reeking of alcohol. “Foggy Days” made me rue the ballad (but I rue ballads anyway, because I’m just some trashy, old school punk chic). If I was in the bar, completely wasted, I could likely break into some dance moves by the time “Gone” comes on, cause they allow their raw and edgy sound to ebb out on this dirty little whore. They even threw in an overwhelmingly attractive instrumental with a funky back beat, DJ scratching on the Theremin, and luscious slide guitar.
I applaud Black Smokers for the attempt, but being a southern American and subjected to this blues/rock/rockabilly country stuff for so long, I have to say that it doesn’t compare to the real thing. Unfortunately, there are few European bands that can convince me that they can play American music as well as Americans. Nothing personal; maybe it’s the accent (although I find accents a sexilicious attribute), but I really feel as if they should dig a bit deeper into themselves and pull out some nauseous and nasty rock tunes that appeal to a broader audience. Since they are European, maybe they could merge slices of their own culture with a modern and revealing take on their American influences. Otherwise, while it didn’t do it for me, this was still an impressive CD, and I wish them luck.