Five years on from his last solo effort, Generation Y, TV Smith's fifth solo album in many ways tracks back to the moods and textures of his debut, the 1983 masterpiece Channel Five, as he re-forms the fabulous lineup that created that set, which included guitarist Tim Renwick and keyboard player Tim Cross, for a collection that could not be further from one's expectations if it tried. The first shock comes with the first bars, "Your Ticket Out of Here," one of several familiar songs from Smith's acoustic live set, is redesigned as a lurching, semi-funk stomp, a rearrangement that brings the so-desperately catchy chorus chiming out with brutal clarity and enforces the lyric with a new clarity. Though pulsating electricity remains the thread that binds the entire album together, the arrangements themselves never allow you to settle. Renwick's guitar, a star of every show it visits, is especially ear-catching, alternating between meaty riffs and emotive flourishes, while Cross' keyboards are never less than mood-melting, a combination that allows Smith's vocal more room to maneuver than he has enjoyed since the days of Cheap.
Lyrically, of course, Smith long ago found his ideal, an intriguing stance that is locked somewhere between wry self-doubt and confessional world-weariness, and that mood remains as vital here as it ever was in his acoustic guise. Even in their "original" form, "One Million Pounds," "Driver or Passenger," and "Sugar Crash" all rank alongside the best of his last decade's output. But when you graft them to the punchy soundscapes conjured here, it is easy to rate Not a Bad Day among Smith's best albums ever, with the deceptively tempestuous "The Future Used to Be Better" standing alongside either "I Will Walk You Home" or "The Beautiful Bomb," the latter being one of the most perfect album-closers ever conceived. Except, of course, it isn't the album-closer, as Not a Bad Day bleeds instead into the biggest surprise of all. The defiantly beat-soaked "The Revolution's the Same" is a seven-minute electro-dance gem that brings Cross' own career among Britain's leading club musicians into shimmering focus alongside one of Smith's most economic lyrics. It doesn't matter when you first started listening to TV Smith, "The Revolution's the Same" sounds like nothing he's ever done before. Fast forward through two minutes of silence, and Not a Bad Day closes with one final number, the "Not in My Name" antiwar tune that was previously available only on Smith's website. Returning him to the acoustic base that the rest of the album so delightedly eschews, and sounding all the more sparse for the fullness that preceded it, it's one of the strongest songs written in the run-up to the 2003 war with Iraq, and one of the most affecting as well.