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Smile... It Confuses People

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Barnes & Noble - David Sprague
Sandi Thom's story puts an Internet-era spin on grassroots marketing. The 20-something singer-songwriter rose to prominence in her native Britain -- and earned a major-label deal -- thanks to a clever self-promotion effort that saw her broadcast gig after gig over the Internet from the confines of her own basement. On this, her first full-length effort, Thom proves that she does more than sing softly and carry a big shtick. Yes, her breakthrough song, "I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker With Flowers in My Hair," is packed with whimsy -- not to mention chances to showcase her sweet vocal trills -- but she's far from a one-trick pony. Thom strikes a clever balance between brainy...
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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - David Sprague
Sandi Thom's story puts an Internet-era spin on grassroots marketing. The 20-something singer-songwriter rose to prominence in her native Britain -- and earned a major-label deal -- thanks to a clever self-promotion effort that saw her broadcast gig after gig over the Internet from the confines of her own basement. On this, her first full-length effort, Thom proves that she does more than sing softly and carry a big shtick. Yes, her breakthrough song, "I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker With Flowers in My Hair," is packed with whimsy -- not to mention chances to showcase her sweet vocal trills -- but she's far from a one-trick pony. Thom strikes a clever balance between brainy and bouncy on songs like "When Horsepower Meant What It Said," which comes across as the sort of song Sheryl Crow might write were she a bookish Brit rather than a sun-kissed midwesterner. Most of Smile's most striking songs follow a similar pattern, particularly "What If I'm Right," a slightly rough-around-the-edges plaint about mean guys and the girls who love them. Thom's better suited to delivering tracks -- like "Sunset Borderline" -- that play up the earth-mother aspects of her sonic personality, rather than those that allow her to drift off into the ether à la Stevie Nicks. Fortunately, she doesn't take the latter approach all that often, and with her tendency for writing songs that are short, sharp, and to the point, Sandi Thom goes a long way toward filling the role she sets out for herself on "Human Jukebox" -- the simple singer intent on "healing hearts with [her] soul."
All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
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. 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.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 9/12/2006
  • Label: Sony
  • UPC: 828768434321
  • Catalog Number: 84343

Album Credits

Performance Credits
Sandi Thom Primary Artist, Guitar, Percussion, Piano, Vocals
Paul Beavis Percussion
Tim Pike Saxophone
Jake Field Organ, Harmonica, Percussion, Piano, Mellotron
Rick Parkhouse Electric Guitar, 12-string Guitar
Tim Parkhouse Drums
Hannah Peel Trombone, Violin
Duncan Thompson Acoustic Guitar, Guitar, Percussion, Drums, Bass Guitar, Cajon
Emma Welsby Marimbas
Technical Credits
Dick Beetham Mastering
Ian Brown Producer, Executive Producer
Jake Field Producer
Mighty Vibrations Producer
Rick Parkhouse Producer, Audio Production
Duncan Thompson Producer
The Mighty Vibrations Audio Production
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 16, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Definitely something to smile about!

    Alexandria Thom (Sandi for short) was born and raised in Scotland. After finishing high school and a stint with a cover band, Thom auditioned and was accepted to The Institute of Performing Arts in Liverpool. After leaving The Institute, Thom made her way back to Scotland where she was contacted by an independent record label. Since then, Thom has moved on to a bigger company and completed her first solo album: Smile . . . It Confuses People.

    The album reached number one in the United Kingdom and has now made its way to the United States. You may be familiar with her popular single "I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair)" which reached the top of UK singles charts and was available via Facebook this summer.
    On a very superficial level, the CD title is great because it is so true.

    The title also sums up the attitude of the album--upbeat. The folk music elements and the quick tempo in Thom's songs add to the optimistic feel. In other words, this album is perfect if you are having a good day and want to keep the good mood going, or a bad day that desperately needs a switch.

    The most important thing, though, is that the songs have substance. The music is resonant, Thom's vocals are wonderful to hear, and the lyrics linger. There is more to these songs than just the catchy pop tune to sing along with on the radio.

    "When Horsepower Meant What It Said" opens the album with a nostalgia for the days when life wasn't quite so tame. The song's chorus bemoans, "how hard the path is trodden" nowadays. Then, of course, there's "I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker" in which Thom sings about the trajedy of being born too late to be a rocker of the sixties or seventies. This song is fun, with claps keeping the beat throughout, but it also really speaks to the listener. Who hasn't wanted to be a punk rocker?

    The real powerhouse of the album is though is "Lonely Girl." This is the only song on the CD that Thom did not write in collaboration. Basically, it has everything that a good song needs: it tells a story, which makes it great for ballad-lovers, while the music, which features a piano and violin, seems reminiscent of jazz. Meanwhile the lyrics read like a poem: "I sometimes see her down by the river / the water dances on her skin / and she can captivate you with her eyes / but she will never let you in." Like many of Thom's songs, this one is tinged with a sense of wistfulness for that which is lost, or maybe for something she never had.

    The songs alter between this theme of nostalgia and musings on doubt, as with "What If I'm Right" where Thom wonders if a relationship is too good to be true. Throughout the album an undercurrent of fun and optimism is still maintained. If you don't smile after hearing "The Human Jukebox" you have no sense of humor.

    "Time", the song that could be a pseudo-biography for Thom, rounds out this excellent debut which is strikingly apt for college students as they move on to the next chapter of their lives when, "it's time to work and not time to play."

    Smile . . . It Confuses People is a truly multivalent album that can give you almost anything you need. Whether it's good music, meaningful lyrics or catchy tune that you're looking for...this one's got it all.

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