Album Review

Smile Empty Soul - Chemicals

Released October 1, 2013
Lisa Sanchez
Before you read this review, whoever you are, mystery music consumer, you have to understand that Smile Empty Soul has been in the music scene since 1998. Sure, this 15-year career may not seem that impressive in comparison to megaliths like The Rolling Stones (which I'm pretty convinced were born and bred together in a special think tank for eternal bands) or even Metallica. But, the tricky thing is Smile Empty Soul has existed in virtual anonymity. Except for the brief "one-hit-wonder" status of their self-titled gold record in the early 2000's, who really even knew the band was still breathing post-grunge air? I'm willing to bet you know more about Norwegian tax law than Smile Empty Soul's entire discography.

With that said, the band recently released its sixth album, Chemicals. At this point in the band's career, releasing a sixth album is the equivalent of being a 30-year-old high school senior. Admittedly, I bought Smile Empty Soul's only successful album in 2003. Correction, my mom bought it for me because I was a derelict but still adorable 14-year-old. Back then, on the early 2000 nu-metal and post-grunge wave, Smile Empty Soul's music was still only passable.

Jump 10 years later, after the mild success of the band's first album, Smile Empty Soul have the exact same sound and content they had a decade earlier. I'm sure my fuzzy memory about the band's early success is a result of both my misbegotten youth and Smile Empty Soul's generic sound. Chemicals is that friend you have who shows up year after year in the same "Scream" costume from 1999. It was a big success when the movie was relevant and now it's just an old trope being paraded in public for nostalgia.

However, Chemicals is catchy at times. I'll certainly admit that Smile Empty Soul know how to market angst into easy-rhyming couplets. "Black and Blue" and "False Alarm" really make me want to bust out my safety pins and start pinning things indiscriminately. Madness! I can't hold a grudge against anyone for making a simple album and that is certainly something Smile Empty Soul has cornered with Chemicals. Some of the tracks are even mildly grown-up friendly, including "New Low" and "Mechanical Rationality" in specific, talk about heavy, personal subject matter and don't come off as just a smattering of buzzwords for easy-listening audiences. Maybe that's my inner-optimist coming out, but Smile Empty Soul does have some positive messages inserted into one deep pile of holy grunge.

Sure, by simple I mean they sound like a garage band that practices at least twice a week, but maybe that's what they're going for. However, Chemicals ends before it is able to mightily irritate anyone into suicide. The album barely edges over 30 minutes, and most of the songs are three minutes and radio-ready. The whole album hits me as one big cry for help. "Please tolerate us again!" I'm still stuck on if Smile Empty Soul is a Christian-rock band or if its members don't discuss certain subject matter or use foul language because it makes them more marketable.

I can't be sure if Smile Empty Soul is just trying to hold onto their once-successful style until it comes back into vogue or if they have no other ideas. They have to have some long-term strategy. If I had to guess, I'd have to say the royalties have run out and they crested the wave of "Remember when we were on MTV2?" Point of fact, your band is no longer popular if you were on MTV when MTV played music. Smile Empty Soul's Chemicals isn't even "Too-little-too-late" it's "Who-the-hell-invited-them-to-the-party?" Sorry guys, it's time to hang up your white mask and plastic knife.