[15 May 2011]
Whether through innate temperament or calculated design (though it’s likely the former), Sonny Smith is as charming a lo-fi frontman as you’re going to find these days. Over the course of two albums billed to Sonny and the Sunsets—2009’s Tomorrow Is Alright and now Hit After Hit—he’s already mastered the friendly-and-ramshackle-but-perfectly-idealized-garage-pop aesthetic. (And if you heard about his recent “100 Records” art installation, you know he’s a busy dude and if he wasn’t careful, could slip into rote, assembly-line pop.) As a buddy of mine once noted, Sonny and the Sunsets is like the part of Robert Pollard that always dreamed of being a genuine class-of-‘64 British Invasion and got his wish… only 45 years too late, and from San Francisco. It’s close enough for rock ‘n’ roll.
Hit After Hit picks up where Tomorrow Is Alright left off—though it’s a little tighter and a little brighter than it’s big brother. Needless to say, Hit After Hit conjures a parallel universe where Smith’s nuggets are indeed hits—and really, it’s not so far-fetched a notion, as the band repeatedly borrows elements of actual hit songs from our universe, the band tweaking them just enough to make ‘em their own. There’s the strolling “Dirty Water” bassline meandering through the opening “She Plays Yo Yo With My Mind”, the sloppy early Dave Davies-y solo on “Home and Exile”, the backing “oh yeah yeah"s, “oooh"s and “ahhhh"s of ‘60s girls group that pop up time and again throughout the album. You’ve loved this stuff once before; you’ll love the Sunsets’ take on ‘60s rock and pop, too.
Plus, it helps that the band has a keen sense of humor. “She Plays Yo Yo With My Mind” succinctly sums up what the fairer sex can do to a man: “Green is yellow, orange is blue, the ground is stiff, yet it moves.” “Teen Age Thugs” finds Smith’s narrator scared of his local loitering youths (perhaps not a surprising stance for this old soul). The album’s best joke, however, comes courtesy the chorus of “Reflections on Youth”: “It’s hard, it’s so hard… to remember.”
At 11 songs in 28 minutes—and that includes two instrumentals: the dark faux-raga “The Band Energy from LA Is Killing Me”, and the “oooh/ahhh”-intensive stomper “Acres of Lust”—Hit After Hit is a simple, charming, not-a-note-wasted lark of the kind that seems to be in short supply these days… except when it’s flowing from Sonny Smith’s pen.