Okay, maybe the pirate vibe is so last summer (Smugglers? Mutiny? Sounds pretty Pirates of the Caribbean to me), but let’s cut the Vancouver, British Columbia, quartet the Smugglers some slack, because while they may be behind the curve on all things “arr, matey”, they’ve been doing the garage rock thing since 1994, long before it became cool again, back when Cutthroat Island damn near killed off the pirate movie genre. But I digress.
In the interest of fairness, the Smugglers aren’t riding the swashbuckling coattails of a certain Johnny Depp blockbuster with their latest, Mutiny in Stereo. Rather, they’re referencing literal pirate radio ships that spun records off the coast of England after rock ‘n’ roll was essentially banned on many stations in Great Britain in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s, and paying homage to that “F you” spirit in the form of opening track “Pirate Ships”. The tune’s a merry blast of pure punk snarl, with Nick Thomas and David Carswell’s guitars slipsliding over Graham Watson’s mammoth drums and Beez’s rumbling bass. It’s a joyous slice of rock ‘n’ roll, pure and simple. The Clash would be proud to hear it.
The image of a pirate radio station broadcasting just out of reach of—and thumbing their noses at—The Man is a fitting one for the Smugglers, who have stayed on the fringes (read: pure) for a decade now, sticking to small labels (PopLlama, Mint, Lookout), keeping the music simple and catchy and, as a result, entertaining the masses the way they want to (the dance contests at their concerts are the stuff of legend, complete with secondhand trophies). It’s reassuring to see bands like the Smugglers succeed on their own terms.
The remainder of Mutiny in Stereo‘s tunes aren’t as fraught with meaning as “Pirate Ships”, but they’re no less fun. “Billy-Billy” and “Suntans” evoke the throwaway pleasures of early British Invasion bands (to say nothing of singer Grant Lawrence’s faux-Brit accent); Beez’s urgent bass informs the booty-shaking-inducing “Get up Syndrome”—surely a dance concert fave with its “Get up / Get down” commands. Meanwhile, Beez gets his own ode, the live show staple “Don’t Mess with Beez”, which chronicles some of the bassist’s odder exploits (“He went to Europe with a moustache and a fedora”), tosses in a handclap bridge (thereby proving its worthiness as a popular live song) and even features a great saxophone passage ... but it lacks a bass solo. If I ever end up playing bass for a rock band and someone writes a (flattering) song about me, you better believe I’m busting out a bass solo. But that’s just me.
Mutiny in Stereo is more than just garage punk and goofy tunes about oddball bassists. “Mach 1”, originally appearing on their 1994 debut, Wet Pants Club, gets revisited with a warm organ line, and becomes a dusty road trip tune worthy of Izzy Stradlin; the instrumental closer “Do You Hear that Sound” proves the existence of the band’s introspective side.
But (comparatively) gentle instrumentals aren’t what help the Smugglers pay the bills. They are, first and foremost, a rock band that likes to shake the ya-yas out whenever they can. Granted, the band isn’t reinventing the wheel—really, they bring no new ideas to the table at all—but they play with such a passion and an unbridled joy that it doesn’t even matter. To borrow a line from their tune “Shock the Shanker”: “I need my rock ‘n’ roll fix.” With Mutiny in Stereo, consider it done.