The first time I heard of Smudge was back in the mid-90s when I was listening to the Lemonheads’ 'Car Button Cloth' album, and found the lyrics to the song 'The Outdoor Type' absolutely hilarious (they still are). A quick check in the sleeve notes told me that that song wasn’t written by Evan Dando, but by one Tom Morgan. A further glance at previous Lemonheads albums also told me that Dando and Morgan had written most of the songs for the album 'Come On Feel the Lemonheads' together, including 'Big Gay Heart', 'Being Around' and 'The Great Big No', all fantastic songs. Later I found out that Tom Morgan was a member of a band called Smudge and that they had also recorded their version of 'The Outdoor Type', although I never got the chance to hear it until I could download it many years later.

Now Fire Records have released two of Smudge’s 90s' albums, 'Manilow' (originally released in 1994) and 'Real McCoy, Wrong Sinatra' (released in 1998), in attractive gatefold sleeves and with bonus tracks (of course). Apparently, the band quite recently got back together and started doing live shows again, after a lengthy hiatus while the drummer Alison Galloway went trekking all over the world.

It’s quite hard to get a grip on Smudge. 'Manilow' kicks off with the title track, which is just a lot of noise and distorted vocals for a little less than 90 seconds, sounding not far from the early, not that very listenable Lemonheads recordings. But then, on 'Ingrown', it sounds more like the good side of Lemonheads, which is a relief, I must say. And yes, I do draw a lot of comparisons to Lemonheads, but they only have themselves to blame really. They have collaborated and they sound more or less the same. Morgan even sings in the same way that Dando does. And most of the songs on 'Manilow' are reminiscent of the Lemonheads in a good way, which makes this album a great substitute for anyone who thinks that Evan Dando is far too lazy these days.

Also, this reissue comes with a download code from Fire Records from which you can download a 14-track live album, recorded in Köln, Germany in 1994. The sound quality isn’t great, but you can hear live versions of the aforementioned 'The Outdoor Type', and the band’s debut single, 'Don’t Want to be Grant McLennan', among others.

'Real McCoy, Wrong Sinatra' is… well, more of the same, really. For this record, the band added a second guitarist, making Smudge a quartet, but that’s more or less the only thing that has changed since 'Manilow'. It still sounds like Dando and co. and the songs are still strong. I also like the fact that drummer Alison gets a chance to shine here too, as a vocalist on 'Breadcrumb Trail' and 'Lucked Out'. If you enjoyed 'Manilow', you will enjoy this album as well.

There seems to be a “best of” compilation of Smudge songs on the way later this year, and maybe that would be a better start if you, like me, aren’t very familiar with their music. Still these are two great albums.

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