These days I feel like I could start every review here on NuDisc.net with something like “Jeez! It was 30 years ago… boy, do I feel old!” And it was, indeed, three decades ago that L7’s Smell the Magic was unleashed upon the rock world. But unlike much of what we cover here, this one isn’t a record that I ever owned (neither on vinyl nor CD) or got into heavily so I can’t talk about it like it’s figured that greatly in my life. This is one I thought might be worth checking out again to see if my tastes had changed. Have they? Have I? Let’s see.
L7’s second big release – though it was initially a 6-song EP on vinyl – the record was also their second for Sub Pop, who had already put out a singles club 7″ of “Shove” b/w “Packin’ a Rod” (both on this release). At the time I didn’t pay much attention to their records because L7 was more rawk than I typically went. Sure, I was into punk of the British variety (and some US stuff like X and Ramones), but this branch of it was more sludgy, dare-I-say grungy (before the term was coined and overused) than I got into. Basically, slower rhythms and screamy vocals kinda turned me off. Over the years my intake of music has broadened on all fronts, though, and so, just like I have developed quite a taste for jazz and dub, I have also taken to some harder indie rock. What’s great about doing this is that Smell the Magic is practically like a new release to me. I’m not listening to it and remembering who I was seeing at the time, where I worked, or what drama I may have been going through. So I’m hearing the band’s smart ass, humorous stuff like “Fast and Frightening” and “(Right On) Thru” and digging the words, maybe because I’m not getting stuck on the basic, simple arrangements. OR: Maybe it’s just because, after years of therapy (!), I don’t automatically freak out when it sounds like someone’s yelling at me!
For the 30th Anniversary version, initial 12″ copies – or as Sub Pop calls them, Loser Editions – of Smell the Magic are on clear-with-orange/blue/grey-swirl vinyl (and Amoeba Music and Easy Street Records have a clear blue version) and CD, “remastered [doesn’t say by whom] for maximum impact.” As stated earlier, I don’t have an original copy so I can’t vouch for that claim!
L7’s energy is great, the recordings are what you’d expect for a raw indie release, and Smell the Magic is a nine song, thirty minute blast of good hard rock. Or sludge punk. I don’t know, what would you call it? Regardless, it’s a great way to bust thru the bull shit and enjoy something simpler and primal-er. How does that sound? – Marsh Gooch
3/5 (Sub Pop SP 1379, 2020)