Smart Brown Handbag – Just Like Driving Backwards

Smart Brown Handbag
Just Like Driving Backwards

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to review this album. Perhaps because I tend to remove the album from the pack I take to work every day after it’s been reviewed, and I secretly didn’t want to stop bringing this one to work. This album reeks of guilty pleasure. It almost feels too slick and too radio-friendly for my indie sensibilities to justify. And the name of the band sounds a bit too much like the area of a department store that I try to avoid. Regardless, this is an excellent album of lovely, lofty pop tunes.

This is Smart Brown Handbag’s sixth CD, and it’s hard to believe all this sound is made by just a trio. Every song is very layered and thick, providing an atmosphere that goes beyond just simple pop structures. They are centered around David Steinhart’s (of the band Pop Art in the 80’s) lovely but not too pretentious voice, yet the vocals are not mixed way to the front as many bands would. Rather, they’re layered nicely and mix perfectly with the layered guitars, subtle bass, and soft percussion. Comparisons are difficult, but there’s a definite 80’s European feel, perhaps similar to the Smiths, and Steinhart’s voice at times has an almost British quality to it, reminding me of the more illustrious recordings by Love Spit Love.

“Where to From Here?” starts off slower and lovely, with some layered guitars (one sounding suspiciously like a mandolin), and just lovely vocals made thicker by overlapping backing vocals that don’t do more than “ahhhhh…” but sound so nice. The synth-sounding guitar in “The Day Before” add a very light touch. The flowing, lofting chorus of “Greetings from the Longest Weekend…” harken again to an 80’s sound brought more modern by plunking, melodic guitars and that layered atmospheric sound. The percussion and synthesizers on “Medicate to Stabilize” make it one of the catchiest songs on the album. The guitars are quite a bit more sonic and driving on “Backwards” without losing the pop feel. There’s a little late-Bowie feel on “As Close As We Get” and the slower “I Love Everyone.” And the final, “Plastic Babies,” has an almost Spanish flare.

Maybe it’s ok that Smart Brown Handbag is a guilty pleasure. The lofty, orchestrated pop songs are lovely and so immaculately full and well produced, it’s hard to find a single fault on this album. The songs are catchy enough that I find myself singing them later. Maybe it is a bit throwback to the atmospheric 80’s sound, but I don’t mind. These are very pretty, very original purely pop songs that you can’t help but love.