Smart Ass

Mitch Ryder

J-Bird Records, 1982

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/03/2001

Mitch Ryder remains an enigma to me. At the time I'm writing this, I've reviewed two of Ryder's albums, and have see-sawed between declaring them absolute trash and significant improvements. Smart Ass, Ryder's 1982 release, meets those worlds half-way - though the sodomy images off How I Spent My Vacation are thankfully left in the past. (Sorry, Mitch, but one doesn't just wash away such a mental image easily.)

On one hand, Ryder's stripped-down production of this disc (which he explains on J-Bird Records's web site was due to limited funds) hampers his ability to get his musical point across - yet at times this sparse sound works to the music's advantage. Some of these tracks are almost immediately forgettable, yet others are ones you won't forget for a while. If it sounds like I'm creating paradoxes, then you are beginning to understand my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Smart Ass, an album which is a paradox in and of itself.

On the one hand, there's some material on this disc which shows just how talented a songwriter Ryder is and how much of an influence he could have been on the music scene had people in the States been willing to listen back then. "One Room World" is a lovely yet disturbing ode to the horror we all eventually face - namely, growing old - and the possibility of having to face that horror alone. "Hands High" could well be seen as autobiographical, documenting Ryder's return to the musical scene after a self-imposed hiatus back in the '70s and how he wants to enjoy the experience this time. "Berlin" could well have been a foretelling of the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall, and is a song that cries out against violence which tears people (who are otherwise similar in many ways) apart.

Yet there is material on Smart Ass which seems to counteract the good intentions of Ryder. "Hot House" and "You Better Stop It" do sound like they were victims of a budget crunch, having neither the solid songwriting nor the musical crispness to them that would otherwise make them potential stand-outs on this disc. Either drummer Al Wotton played like he was doing a "Space Invaders" imitation, or the impression of sparse trap work is because he wasn't turned high up enough in the mix.

Smart Ass is a relatively short listen and does highlight some very solid work from Ryder. But it also showed his weaknesses, and those tracks should be approached with some sense of caution. Still, it's worthwhile to check out, if only to hear what the voice behind "Devil With The Blue Dress On" was tackling in the early '80s.

Rating: C+

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© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of J-Bird Records, and is used for informational purposes only.