Album Review: Sad Brad Smith – Love Is Not What You Need

As you have read previously on this site, Sad Brad Smith is very much an up-and-coming star that seems incredibly close to a breakthrough. The adjectives seem to have been exhausted on the previous articles, so now the discussion of his songs themselves can finally be brought into the forefront. His debut album, Love is Not What you Need, is strong, well-crafted singer-songwriter fare that is a perfect fit for a cold winter’s day or a rainy summer afternoon.

Smith has the fantastic ability, like They Might be Giants, The Mountain Goats, or even Tom Waits, to write songs with the most somber and heartbreaking of lyrics that are combined with melodies and jokes to make you not want to slit your wrists. All these songwriters, if you listen carefully, paint a bleak and dark picture of life, but you would never notice from the melodies surrounding the words. Smith’s songs, like “Everyone Knows I’m Still in Love With You” for example, confront loss of love head on with the lines, “I lack the power to remember things/ Still feel the pain though I don’t know from where it springs/ Everyone knows that I’m still in love with you.” Underneath this somber line is bouncing drums, plinking Rhodes organ, and whimsical ukulele, and then the whole thing is padded with “aww shucks” lines like “I moved to the photo booth/ no one would kiss me.” You think the song isn’t so bad to listen at surface value, but once you pay attention, things seem just a wee bit sadder.

Another example is the organ, synth, and glockenspiel party of “Bad Mood”. The song starts off with the lines, “You always put me in a bad mood…but I’ve got it for you in the worst way/ I missed you from the first kiss too, and I still do today,” before cueing the Ween-esque organ and rolling snare. The song continues down the lively and fun path into the chorus of, “I shouldn’t worry, I’ll be fine/ There’s no point in trying to correct you/ Everything I did, I did, I did just to protect you,” which concludes with the great line, “looks like it’s cold cuts again today for lunch (awww).” The “aww” in the background is a perfect example that Smith is in on the joke. He knows that he is wallowing in it a bit. He gets it and says it before you get the chance. Also, it’s hard to be too sad when it comes to the sweet synth solo in the middle of the song.

This isn’t to say that Smith can’t write a damn sad love song. With “Baby, I’m So Sad” and “Home Sweet Home”, he doesn’t show many signs of joking around. In “Baby, I’m So Sad,” he starts off with a reverb-drenched guitar and harmonica and sings, “If I could only find you and play you this song/ I was writing it the day we met/ I’ve been writing it all along,” in a shaky voice. This song contains some of the best lines on the entire album. Granted the chorus of, “Oh my baby, I’m so sad,” and the bridge, “Oh I miss you so/ Don’t ever go/ Don’t ever leave me,” can be seen as “get over it” moments, but Smith delivers it in such earnest that it’s easily forgiven. Plus, with lines like, “I know you’re gone for good/ I know this time it’s real/ I know you are still in love with me/ you just don’t like the way that it feels,” you can’t help but feel his pain.

“Home Sweet Home” has a similar loneliness throughout the song. Right from the start you hear, “Feelin’ low, the lowest I’ve ever been/ All the ghosts I know are now near/ Feel like putting my fist in my eye, and a bullet in my ear.” Yeah. You know he ain’t in a joking mood. The entire song is a solid ode to a love lost. My favorite line on the album comes in the second verse. After he talks about how many times he has broken his love’s heart, he drops the extremely well crafted, “I cannot get her back again, but she will not go away.” If you haven’t had that kind of feeling in your life, then congrats to you. Smith quantifies it perfectly.

Other highlights on the album– “Shooting Star”, album opener “Sure”, and title track “Love is Not What you Need”– combine these great songwriting elements from the previously mentioned songs and solidify the album. For essentially being recorded in his bedroom, Smith has created a well-mastered album. He uses just the right amount of drenching reverb, electronic drums, and lo-fi hiss to make both a personal and far-reaching album. The sound is akin to Iron & Wine’s first album (with less fuzz) or the guitar-only tracks on Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. As has been said, Sad Brad Smith has the talent and drive to put him on top ten lists and record players across the country. He just needs to have those last few steps in place. Love is Not What You Need is one damn solid step forward.


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