Smiley Kids

Don't Get Bored

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One of the most intriguing developments in Christian music in the '90s has been the appropriation of punk rock -- a genre with one of the most rabidly anti-authoritarian ideologies on the pop-culture landscape -- as a tool to spread the message of the Gospel to younger audiences. Some Christian punk bands use punk's oft-repeated themes of outsider alienation and personal integrity as a framework to present their spirituality as an alternative to mainstream materialism. The Smiley Kids, however, true to their name, are more happy-go-lucky, blasting through a series of hyperactive skate-punk anthems on Don't Get Bored, with the occasional ska-punk number tossed in for good measure. Even if the fastest sections sometimes threaten to fall apart, it's a testament to how well the group has mastered the style that their music contains no hint of the sunny, wide-eyed naïveté that the unconverted will likely detect in scanning through the accompanying lyric booklet. (In fact, the contrast between sentiment and delivery is often quite amazing.) The only real displays of intense scorn are reserved for Christians timid about preaching to others ("Useless") and those who concentrate on symbolism and ritual at the expense of religious substance ("Imitation Cross," which contains a pretty pointed attack on Catholicism in its first verse). But overall, the Smiley Kids' simple credo of godly love, faith and good times is an appealing enough message for the converted. A more interesting question, given their skilled mimicry of punk sound and style, is whether their music has a chance of winning fans from outside their obvious Christian audience. It's a debatable proposition, but what ultimately might prove decisive is, well, the "smiliness" factor. The group's "just be happy, everything will be OK in the end" philosophy does stem from their faith, and its simplicity may find some takers; however, when they acknowledge the existence of depression and alienation, it tends to come off as lip service and betrays a lack of understanding about where those feelings come from and how deeply they may run. Then again, if their social commentary is reserved for other members of the religious community, it's doubtful that their target audience lies on the outside.

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