Smoking Martha were a wonderful find in 2018; a year chock-full of excellent releases that will take some effort to top. Now, after two surgeries and everything the past world has thrown at the human race for almost two years, Smoking Martha are back with their newest album, Universe. And much like last time around, they’ve snuck it in at the end of a year stacked with great albums but ensuring they make enough of a competent racket to make you re-evaluate your favourite albums of 2021.
Indeed, Universe is an aptly-named album. It crosses the entire universe of rock, all washed down with pop flavourings to ensure the dozen tracks are firmly cemented in your brain for weeks, if not months. “Good Girls” kicks off the album, exploding into life with a vicious, jagged riff, evoking hints of AC/DC’s “Let There Be Rock” with its driving boogie. As a sharp reintroduction into their world, it’s a welcome one before they delve deeper into darker territory and metamorphose to their current incarnation.
Despite the extra layer of pop gloss to be found here, it’s an album which feels more real than its predecessor and there was nothing false about that one. Lyrically, it becomes more introspective and sophisticated when combined with the self-assuredness of their performances makes for a more mature-sounding band and far more interesting listen. It’s no more obvious than on the back-to-back triple hitter of “Wonderful Happiness”, “Liquid Sunshine” and the appropriately titled halfway point of “Intermission”. As the first two bathe in a pop glow, guitars still have their opportunity to crunch and squeal against thunderous drums and Natasha Doherty’s captivating vocals. Meanwhile, “Intermission” runs at an enjoyable amble with its contemplative nature and sounding straight out of the 1950s.
However, the band still provide us with upbeat rockers and can hang with the best of them with the driving “Ghost”. Laden with hints of danger, it rattles its way to its finish before you have time to draw breath. Likewise, “It’s a Lie” is as bombastic as it gets; the entire song has the energy of a rubber band stretching too far and hitting you in the face. Where many, myself included, called The Pretty Reckless’ “25” the perfect Bond theme, this usurps the crown.
Indeed, where the band show off their two distinct yet cohesive flavours comes at the end of the album with “Wild and Free” and the title track, “Universe”. As the former is about as close to your standard hard rock fare, it’s a track perfect for the live environment and getting the crowd warmed up as one of the opening numbers. The guitar riff fights its way through twelves rounds with the drumss, each opponent upping the ante and the challenge is suitably answered. Meanwhile the latter serves as the atmospheric, light closer. Acoustic strumming melds with Doherty’s throaty vocals and while comparisons to Gwen Stefani during No Doubt’s heyday may be apparent for the duration of the album, it’s none more clearer than on their parting shot, as it closes with an exclamation point.
If you’re looking for a traditional rock album, this isn’t for you. Instead, Smoking Martha have grown and evolved their own sound to be so much more. As they pick up from where they left off but ultimately continue to move forward, they show with ease and precision how vast the spectrum can be in our world. Universe is an album which will dig its claws into you, demanding your attention and will likely kick its way into many people’s best albums of 2021.
Universe is out now