Brett Smiley was a legend in glam rock circles, but a legend only to those who lived through the times or fanatically dug through old, yellowed copies of Melody Maker, NME, and Disc, seeking to re-create the times. Such is the fate of a singer whose only album was shelved following a disastrous performance of a heavily hyped single. Smiley deserved better, but fate has been kind to him, since his longstanding cult reputation led to the much belated but still celebrated release of his scrapped 1974 album, Breathlessly Brett, on RPM in 2003. Its release was tied into RPM's Lipsmackin' 70s series, which debuted with Velvet Tinmine, a collection of glam and glitter singles forgotten to all but die-hard record collectors. Smiley comfortably fit into this category, of course, and his storied bomb, "Va Va Va Voom," received its CD debut there, whetting the appetite for this disc. Everybody who's heard the collection or the single will know what to expect, and will be delighted with what they get -- a fabulously fey, coyly campy, and smashingly swishy glam pop album; it's Bowie and Bolan filtered through Judy Garland and performed by the prettiest boy to sigh into a microphone in the '70s. These are precisely the ingredients for a cult classic, of course, but it's hardly something that would have burned up the charts, unless it hit at precisely the right moment and was sold to the hilt. Smiley did have Andrew Loog Oldham, the man who sold the world the Rolling Stones in the '60s, behind him, producing his record, pushing his image, and selecting his material. Oldham often had his finger on the pulse of pop currents and his genius was promotion, but he was simply off here. He was a little late on the glam bandwagon, he relied too heavily on Smiley's gorgeous visage, he bizarrely encouraged Smiley to play up MOR and traditional pop links (he covers "Young at Heart," names one original "April in Paris," and adds "Over the Rainbow" to the end of his cover of the Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself"), and when it didn't sell, he jumped ship immediately.
To be frank, this music minces and swishes so much and has so much old-fashioned theatricality that it's hard to see how it would have been a big hit, no matter how pretty Smiley is or how catchy each of these songs are. But these are all the reasons why Breathlessly Brett is a delight for obsessive glam fans and unrepentant pop record collectors. It's the kind of record where even the bad moments -- and there are undeniably silly patches -- have a kind of absurd charm, such as ending a fizzy, trashy glitter-bubblegum album with "Young at Heart," or how Smiley twists the words of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to "You got that something/You got that hand." But the real strength of the album is in Smiley's original songs. Prior to this, it seemed like he peaked early with "Va Va Va Voom" and its B-side, the tremendous Ziggy Stardust rip "Space Ace," but the rest of the originals are on par with these two peaks: "Highty Tighty" speeds by on sleazy horns and a tight, sexy rhythm; "April in Paris" has a foppish swagger like the best Marc Bolan, while "Pre-Columbian Love" kicks like a good T. Rex rocker; "Run for the Sun" is Roxy Music for the teen set; "Queen of Hearts" has a Baroque art pop spaciness that proves Smiley was not just a keen alchemist, but was developing a voice of his own. Though he continued to write and record demos over the years, he never had a chance to follow through on the promise of this LP, since after all the hype, it simply vanished. Fortunately, RPM has unearthed this buried treasure and, in doing so, proves that the legend surrounding Brett Smiley was not wrong.