Reviewed by Kit Burns
Given SMUG vocalist/bassist Bret Helm’s reported touring experience with Public Image Ltd. in the mid-’80s, I was expecting something a little bit more angular and post-punk with his own outfit, SMUG. Certainly that influence can be heard on a few tracks, such as the neo-Goth stomp of “Passing You By” and the mohawked funk of “They Never Read the Book,” but SMUG simply cannot be put into a single category. Freshly Stained sounds like the work of more than one group; its only consistency is really Helm himself, who can equally pass for Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys or Dexter Holland of the Offspring depending on what the song calls for.
With punk in such a sad state of decay, it’s a relief to hear innovation, versatility, and a sharp-tongued sense of humor in the genre again. “Shoulda Wrote a Ballad” is a piercing attack on the music industry, a biting satirical comment on how having a generic love song can take you to the promised land of Top-40 radio. Of course, I’m writing this just after hearing the horrid “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White T’s on a supermarket sound system for the millionth time, the very definition of what Helm is singing about. “3 States 6 Days 1200 Miles” and “It’s Me” are reminiscent of Devo’s herky-jerky moves but given a sonic toughness.