Girl Crushes Boy

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By the time of Girl Crushes Boy, Smile had shaken off the unwieldy grunge moves of earlier years to embrace something far more enjoyable. While still rocking loud as hell when they wanted to -- further helped by the fine production work of the consistently great Mark Trombino, who also plays a variety of instruments -- Smile here create what a good power pop record should be: volume cranked high, not winsome but brawling brightly. "The Best Years" kicks things off with all that and more, including a great midsong break that almost fully shifts the time signature without calling attention to the fact and a killer Mike Rosas lyric in "Come to my house, break down the door, it's OK!" The full-bodied guitar riffs are focused down to the wire, resulting in songs that recapture new wave herky-jerky mania ("Too Many Reasons," with a great keyboard bit to match). Sometimes the odd little twists and turns in songs are so carefully handled that one can almost miss them, such as the waltz-like swing of "Sputnik" or the sweet, slow lope of "The Scientologist's Love Affair," one of the band's better song titles. If there's a hands-down killer song, "This Freaky Slow Dance" is it, one of the best and indeed honestly danceable rock songs of the late '90s, with a chorus that descends and then whooshes back, sounding a bit like the Fall's "Rebellious Jukebox" turned into a groovy party. "Instant Brain Damage" is right on up there as well, a great building burn of a song that suddenly turns utterly fantastic with the way Rosas sing/snarl/purrs "Brain damage, brain damage!" in the chorus while the band cleanly blasts along. Points as well to the band's hometown references to Costa Mesa in "So Different Now."

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