A band I adored a few years back were those soft lo-fi retro Chicago rockers The Smith Westerns. While the guitar work wasn’t perfect live, the gentle but persuasive bounce of the Smith Westerns’ music shone through and they were one of the bands of Reading/Leeds for me back in 2011. Seven years on former Smith Westerns lead singer Cullen Omori has just released his second solo album The Diet on that legendary and cool West Coast record label Sub-Pop.
If you follow the man on social media it seems Cullen Omori wears his heart on his sleeve and so is always getting it torn, tugged on or covered in gravy. There have clearly been some difficult times since the Smith Westerns suddenly fizzled out and Omori’s first career fell apart. Omori’s first solo album 2016’s New Misery didn’t quite set the world alight. It was a gently understated and well crafted release, but perhaps it didn’t have enough songs with fire in its belly. It didn’t help that Omori’s tour van broke down during promoting the album and then his life which had been decamped to a rented car on a temporary basis was stolen. Omori split from his manager and then he and his girlfriend split too, leaving him in an uncertain and vulnerable place. Thankfully Omori has now just got past that rock-star dangerous age of 27, otherwise I’d fear for him.
Fortunately you can’t keep a good music man down and despite the travails Cullen Omori was determined to kick back. When a song writer licks their wounds they become wonderfully productive, and it wasn’t too long before Omori had songs that were worth going the full mile for.
Omori’s done it in style with The Diet, as this is a nice fresh clean recording. It does remind me slightly of the feel and soft laid back grace of the Smith Westerns but this is no retread of previous glories, instead it is a much more mature and sophisticated work with a new centre of steel in the music. One of my favourite tracks is the Bolan tinged intensity of All By Yourself. This is a perfect fusing of bubblegum rock, west coast laid back and a modern version of a brit-pop polish. Millennial Geishas has plenty of rock swagger and again reminds me of the heyday of Bowie and Bolan. I have no doubt in 12 months time Omori will be better known for his solo tracks than those with his former band mates from his teens.
Omori’s The Diet does has something of the harmony and confidence of the brothers Gallagher in addition to that remaining nod to the laid back West Coast guitar twang heavy bands of the 60’s. Opening track Four Years just builds and builds to become a colossus track of soaring vocals, beautifully jangling guitars and a beating heart that knows what it’s like to be alive. It’s a track about the four years relationship with Omori’s former relationship. Happiness Reins is a glorious love poem to his latest love, but in a twist of cruel fate this pairing has also hit the dust. Thankfully this song offers a creditable legacy.
Overall there’s bouncy bangers in spades, and in contrast to that first building block album New Misery there’s at least six immediate stand out tracks here and not a lazy one amongst the whole set. A Real You has a real hint of the 1960’s complete with swirling hippy trippy vocals and a real happy feel summery chorus.
When it comes to music, I am somewhat greedy in that I tend to have about five albums of the year rather than just the one. There are some wonderful albums coming out soon (Idles and Blinders for starters), but Cullen Omori’s The Diet is definitely destined to be one of my top albums for 2018 (so far joining releases by Shame and the Young Fathers).