Generally my eBay searches are confined to either looking for a specific item that I want, or doing a general search for Icelandic vinyl. When I find something Icelandic that I want, I’ll usually then peruse the seller’s other items to see if there’s anything else of interest there, and that often turns what was going to be a $20 purchase into a $100 one. That’s the story of how I ended up with a copy of the original European release of On You by Finnish sleaze-rockers Smack – I found a Bubbi Morthens record I wanted, and the next thing you know I’ve got four more totally random (and non-Icelandic) things in my shopping cart. Such is the life of the junkie.
I’d never heard of Smack before, but the album cover was intriguing. It certainly looked metal (remember kids, we’re talking about 1984 here), though it wasn’t clear what subgenre – they could have been anything from hair metal to black metal. It turns out their sound is much closer to the hair scene that was happening in Los Angeles at the time, with some raspy vocals and a heavy dose of sleaze. Which I love. Smack eventually garnered a little major label attention, with Enigma putting out a version of On You in the US and then some CBS releases in the late 1980s. Apparently their music had some reach, though, as both Izzy and Slash from GNR name-checked them in interviews and Nirvana covered the Smack song “Run Rabbit Run” off of On You at some of their live shows in 1988. They never found the same success in the US that they had in their native Finland, however, and broke up around 1990. Unfortunately lead singer Claude (real name Ilari Peltola) passed away of heart disease in 1996 at the all-too-young age of 30, another impressive talent taken from us way too soon.
The guys from Smack were very young when On You came out – of the three original founding members, Claude and Cheri were only 18 and Kartsa was 21. That makes the record all that much more impressive. Sure, there were some great debut albums in that hair metal scene, like Mötley Crüe’s Too Fast for Love and Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, but most of those guys were at least a bit older and more experienced (Vince Neil was 20 when Too Fast came out, two years older than his Smack counterpart Claude) than the guys from Finland.
There’s a website devoted to the band, and their early influences are listed as performers like Iggy & The Stooges, the MC5, The Doors, and the Sex Pistols, and I can certainly see some of that, especially with regards to Iggy Pop. But the big vibe I get here is of an updated version of Alice Cooper, especially on a song like “Completely Alone.” Certainly the Los Angeles glam scene is part of their sound as well, and I have to assume the band was drawing some inspiration from what was happening there (the band relocated to LA in 1989 before breaking up in 1990). But what’s interesting to me is the band that Smack most reminds me of, a band that didn’t exist at the time and wouldn’t put out its first and only album until 1990 – Mother Love Bone. Claude reminds me more than a little of Andy Wood (listen to “Cemetery Walls” and tell me if you agree), and while Smack’s sound is a bit less polished than that of Mother Love Bone, that’s not so much indicative of talent as much as the way music was presented during the era.
On You is one of the better “new to me” albums I’ve heard in quite some time, and I’m definitely going to be looking for more of Smack’s stuff, particularly 1986s Live Desire. If you’re a fan of the hair metal era, On You is definitely worth your time to track down.