Sandi Thom – Smile … It Confuses People (2006)

FrontCover1Smile… It Confuses People is the debut studio album by Scottish singer Sandi Thom. It was released in both Ireland and the United Kingdom on 5 June 2005 by RCA Records (although the back of the album bears the RCA Music Group logo instead). The album is a mix of pop and folk, predominantly written by Thom herself alongside Tom Gilbert.

The album produced Thom’s first number-one single on the UK Singles Chart, Ireland Singles Chart and in Australia, giving her song the record of longest period at number-one in Australia for 2006 and becoming the highest selling single for 2006. The album also generated another two singles but failed to chart successfully. Smile… It Confuses People was certified platinum by BPI selling three hundred thousand copies around the UK.

The album went straight to number one in its week of release in the UK. It spent a total of eighteen weeks in the UK top forty. It has since gone platinum in the UK and has sold over 1 million copies worldwide.

In Australia the album reached its peak at #11. On its ninth week in the chart at number fifteen the album was certified gold by ARIA selling thirty-five thousand copies around Australia. It was the seventy-eighth highest selling album for 2006.

Single
Single cover “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair)”

I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair) was the first song released from the album and topped the UK, Ireland Singles Chart for two weeks the Australian ARIA Singles Chart for ten weeks making it the highest selling single for 2006. It was accredited Double Platinum (140,000 units) by ARIA. “What If I’m Right” was the second song released from the album and reached 22 in the UK and 30 in the Irish chart and top forty in Australia and New Zealand. “Lonely Girl” was the third song released from the album available for digital download only released in the UK on 4 December 2006 and did not chart.

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Whether or not one wants to believe the hype surrounding Sandi Thom’s supposedly grassroots method of getting herself a record deal — there’s plenty of controversy and conspiracy theory surrounding it (read her bio for details) — or not, is immaterial. The intensity and arrogance of the hype from her American label which issued weekly press releases to let us know we were ignorant and lived under a rock if we didn’t know about her or her alleged miracle of world- and chart- conquering method of arriving at her deal hasn’t helped. (After all, Ani DiFranco did the whole thing herself and still hasn’t needed a major — she’s turned every one of them down repeatedly — to make herself a career and inspired thousands to do so themselves.)

Ultimately then, it all comes down to the music. Does Thom have it on her debut, Smile…It Confuses People, or doesn’t she? As for the single, it’s a hopelessly naïve, cleverly worded musical ditty that is reminiscent of something used to sell European automobiles. After all, one of the things Thom chooses to forget, or perhaps really doesn’t know, is that her prime minister and our president, the very people who plunged the world into crisis, are members of that baby boom generation she so romanticizes. This song may have topped the charts in the fickle and music-tabloid driven U.K., but it won’t here. It’s forgettable in a way that any tune by Gnarls Barkley isn’t. Far more interesting are the big, slick pop melodies of “Lonely Girl” and the utterly stunning “Sunset Borderline,” which begin as simple acoustic songs and become big, swirling numbers that touch on ’70s female singer/songwriter empathy and insight, and touch upon the Lou Adler- and Arif Mardin-produced pop records that jumped to the top of the charts. In other words, the production — by the Mighty Vibrations, Rick Parkhouse, and her oh-so-savvy manager Ian Brown — is very slick, calculated to make every one of theses tunes a single.

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There’s nothing naïve in Thom’s voice; she’s a studied singer who understands the kinds of emotions that are carried by dynamic and timbre; in other words, she’s a top-notch vocalist. Other tracks that stand out here are the jaunty “Little Remedy,” the moving “Castles,” and the rootsy “What If I’m Right” which is reminiscent of both Michelle Branch and Meredith Brooks. We only get a real taste of Thom somewhat unadorned on “Superman” and the album’s closer “Time.” What these two tracks prove is that while her songs don’t begin to touch those of the very writers she so idolizes, Smile is a first record nonetheless and it will take time to develop her writing — three or four albums most likely — and to establish herself as a writer as well as a singer (and let’s hope her label, so quick to crown her the “next big thing,” believes in her enough to nurture what is most certainly a real talent). A lot depends on how strong-willed she is and how well-intentioned her management is. If managed properly, she will grow and become the artist she seems so badly to want to be. If not, she will be as forgotten as those two female singer/songwriters mentioned above. Smile…It Confuses People is an auspicious if not completely realized debut by a real — if raw — talent with some truly fine music on it. Don’t believe the hype, believe the music, it tells the real story. (by Thom Jurek)

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Personnel:
Paul Beavis (percussion)
Jake Field (keyboards, harmonica, percussion)
Rick Parkhouse (guitar)
Tim Parkhouse (drums)
Hannah Peel (trombone, violin)
Tim Pike (saxophone)
Sandi Thom (guitar, vocals, piano, percussion)
Duncan Thompson (cajon, drums, guitar, bass, percussion)
Emma Welsby (marimba)

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Tracklist:
01. When Horsepower Meant What It Said (Thom/Gilbert) 3.05
02. I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair) (Thom/Gilbert) 2.31
03. Lonely Girl (Thom) 3.10
04. Sunset Borderline (Thompson/Field/Thom) 3.36
05. Little Remedy (Thompson/Field/Thom) 2.53
06. Castles (Field/Thom/Gilbert) 4.25
07. What If I’m Right (Thom/Gilbert) 2.58
08. Superman (Thom/Tom Gilbert) 2.43
09. Human Jukebox (Thom/Gilbert) 3.19
10. Time (Perry/Thom) 3.20

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Smile

Oh I wish I was a punk rock girl with flowers in my hair,
In 77 and 69 revolution was in the air,
I was born too late to a world that doesn’t care,
Oh I wish I was a punk rocker with flowers in my hair.

When the head of state didn’t play guitar,
Not everybody drove a car,
When music really mattered and when radio was king,
When accountants didn’t have control,
And the media couldn’t buy your soul,
And computers were still scary and we didn’t know everything.

When popstars still remained a myth,
And ignorance could still be bliss,
And when God Save the Queen she turned a whiter shade of pale,
When my mom and dad were in their teens,
And anarchy was still a dream,
And the only way to stay in touch was a letter in the mail.

When record shops were still on top,
and vinyl was all that they stocked,
and the super info-highway was still drifting out in space,
kids were wearing hand-me-downs,
And playing games meant kick arounds,
And footballers who had long hair and dirt across their face.

Oh I wish I was a punk rock girl with flowers in my hair,
In 77 and 69 revolution was in the air,
I was born too late to a world that doesn’t care,
Oh I wish I was a punk rocker with flowers in my hair.

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