From their trash-glam, shit-fi debut album to the far superior, shiny ‘Dye It Blonde’, Chicago’s Smith Westerns have always sounded blasé but excited about aping their boyish heroes – first Marc Bolan and then John Lennon. Something has changed, though. ‘Soft Will’ – recorded once again in a hi-spec studio to give it a definite, if dreamy, sheen – feels like ‘Dye It Blonde’’s comedown; like a band no longer full of a youthful pep that’s impossible to simulate.

They’ve clearly added ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ to their deducible record collection, too, although the result is merely a regressive instrumental slog for the second half of ‘XXIII’. Elsewhere, the band still sound most like Lennon as they try to smile through jaded tears on more upbeat tracks like ‘Fool Proof’ and ‘Idol’, but it’s hard to ignore lyrics like “everyday’s a hangover”, however sprightly the keyboard chimes. By ‘White Oath’ (“chain smoke the day away”) and ‘Cheer Up’ (a sobbing waltz), Smith Westerns aren’t wallowing, but they have succumb to ‘Soft Will’’s sombre core, making the closing ‘Varsity’ (which sounds sanguine and a lot like Squeeze’s ‘Up The Junction’) extra buoyant and even more misplaced.

Dejected though it is, ‘Soft Will’ has its moments, especially if you’ve just been dumped, but the vigour that made Smith Westerns so envious and young, it’s gone.

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