Wil Wagner is like the Australian Frank Turner. He’s sing-shouts with the same taut balance of earnestness and no-fucks-to-give should anyone diminish his stylings as disingenuousness. That might actually be why Wagner’s punk rock quartet, The Smith Street Band, is just starting to get some buzz across the ocean, even if More Scared of You Than You Are of Me is their fourth LP.
The band’s sincerity is also apparent in its name—an homage to Bruce Springsteen’s legendary backing band. But More Scared of You Than You Are of Me doesn’t drive listeners away with its repeated tributes and clunky title. Rather, the 12-song collection ensnares listeners with its tight song structures, yelping melodies and energy delivered via middle-of-the-neck pitched guitar riffs.
Wagner admits that More Scared tells the trajectory of an “Armageddon breakup.” But The Smith Street Band manages to get past the thematic redundancy of another white guy lamenting rejection and focus on the universality of heartache with the kind of humor that enables you to laugh at (or through) the darkness and absurdity of finding yourself alone again.
In single “Birthdays,” Wagner works his way through an entire hypothetical relationship before hitting the punch line of its outro mumbled in one frantic breath, “Hey, my name’s Wil, nice to meet you.” In “It Kills Me to Have to Be Alive,” he likens the emotional beat up to a physical brawl before admitting self-deprecatingly, “I spill my guts for money / But you don’t find my jokes that funny.” These types of songs on More Scared are the type that make you speed a little too fast on the highway because you’re singing along so loudly. But even when the band slows down the tempo (if not the energy) toward the end of the record, songs like “Young Once” try to find the lessons learned in having your heart shattered and growing from it. Wagner tries to reconcile with it in each refrain, sometimes asking and sometimes decrying, “I guess something about it felt important.”
If the trend predictions are right and the emo revival is really happening now, then let’s try keep the ironic t-shirts, floppy hair and MakeOutClub profiles in the 2000s. Instead, let’s elevate the next class like The Smith Street Band who are blending punk power chords and classic rock riffs with humor and humility to keep the sanctity of what Frank Turner calls “guitars and drums and desperate poetry” alive.