Monday, July 17, 2017

Change of Heart's Smile

Change of Heart – Smile (Label Obscura)

It’s no understatement to say that this album was monumental in the Toronto rock underground of the early ’90s. Everyone into guitar music loved this band, from the Barenaked Ladies, Blue Rodeo and the Tragically Hip to the most jaded Queen West scenester. Exclaim magazine, the national music monthly, was founded primarily to champion this band and this record; the mag’s first issue had a “making of” story about this album, penned by drummer Glenn Milchem. Smile was the kind of album that, like the Rheostatics’ Whale Music the year before, or Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It In People 11 years later, rose the bar and helped coalesce a scene. It’s a sprawling, 21-song double album that combines punk, prog, grunge and more, drawing from psychedelic obscurities like Moby Grape and punk outliers like the Minutemen. Even more impressive: it was all recorded live, with a nine-piece band, live to a DAT tape.

And yet—producer/engineer Michael Philip Wojewoda has felt guilty about this record for years, the fact that it always sounded too muddy, too cluttered in ways that did the music no favours, and there was no way to go back and fix the DAT. Technology now allows him to do that—and what we finally have here is the classic album that rises far beyond its nearly forgotten status as something you had to be there at the time to appreciate.

(Note: above YouTube clip is not the remastered version)

This isn’t George Lucas digitally inserting unnecessary backgrounds into the original Star Wars film; this is dusting off confounding cobwebs, making Bernard Maiezza’s keyboards jump to the fore, making Milchem’s cymbals crackle with life, giving Anne Bourne’s cello more definition, giving Rob Taylor’s bass actual depth. And of course, giving Ian Blurton’s signature guitar crunch the heaviness he would always—and still does—deliver night after night on stage.

If you’ve ever been remotely interested in Canadian rock music and haven’t heard this record, now you have no excuse. You don’t have to have been there; the time is now.

Stream: “Before and Beyond,” “Smile,” “Yeah, It Matters”

Note: My personal history with this record is deep. It was a key reason I wanted to co-write the book Have Not Been the Same; Jason Schneider wrote beautifully about the band there. Twenty years ago, I wrote my first-ever cover story for Exclaim!, about Change of Heart. (Last month, I returned to the magazine to write one about Feist.) And I recently had a chance to reconnect with Ian Blurton to discuss a new project I'm working on, details of which will be revealed in a month's time (and which explains my absence from this space).

A nine-piece configuration of Change of Heart will be performing Smile at the Horseshoe Tavern this Saturday, July 22, with Sianspheric and B.A. Johnston on the bill and Michael Philip Wojewoda on live sound. A four-piece incarnation of the band will be playing more dates across Canada in the fall.