Derek Smalls

Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)

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The story behind Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing) goes like this: Derek Smalls, the bass player for metal relics Spinal Tap, mustered the wherewithal to craft a grand, star-studded final statement at the age of 77. By having his creation Derek Smalls go solo, Harry Shearer gets to sidestep the difficultly of mounting an actual Spinal Tap reunion and also craft a nearly bulletproof project: if the album is bad, well, that's just part of the joke, because solo albums by bassists are almost always bad. As it turns out, Smalls Change is difficult to quantify as either bad or good. It simply is, a collection of songs about growing old in the modern world, filled with vulgar jokes and fond memories of days gone by. Shearer's subterranean growl serves as an anchor to a collection that's largely lumbering metal, but there are times when his guests help lighten the touch -- notably Donald Fagen, who delivers a killer punch line on the chorus of "Memo to Willie." By grounding it so heavily in the metal that served Spinal Tap so well, Shearer turns Smalls Change into a bit of a grueling hourlong experience -- there may be the occasional taste of prog pomp or a Richard Thompson cameo, but it's all in the context of hard rock -- but listened to as a series of EPs, the craft behind its silliness shines through and it's quite palatable. Which makes it not all that different from a John Entwistle album.

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