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S*M*A*S*H (Buy CDs by this artist)
S*M*A*S*H EP (Hut USA/Vernon Yard) 1994
Self Abused (Hut USA/Vernon Yard) 1994

The wanton, post-dated punk-rock and slapdash artwork favored by this shy English trio can't disguise the provocative literacy and uncompromising conviction that propels its music. Singer/guitarist Ed Borrie's lyrics — which are far less rugged in construction than the songs — make offbeat sense: "Drugs Again" (one of the four single sides compiled on the EP) weighs narcotic oblivion and romantic commitment with disarming equanimity, while "Revisited No. 3" (the EP's previously unissued item) rues a friend's self-destruction, correcting an old notion (and explaining the band's name) with the line "Suicide is not painless."

Avatars of the new wave of new wave, S*M*A*S*H borrow some of the old, add some of the new — and then slam it all into a wall at 60 mph, stepping back to admire their handiwork. The brief, brash EP — which sounds a bit like uncooked Oasis crossed with a very cranky Teenage Fanclub — is depthcharged with intriguing bits, not the least of which is a 1971 Germaine Greer essay included to explain the song "Lady Love Your Cunt." Cutting out the pop center (but revisiting "Real Surreal"), Self Abused is much harsher, both musically and lyrically. The album blusters along on a distorted bass bottom and scaly guitar aggression. (Think the Stranglers and Gang of Four fed through a Steve Albini noise processor, although Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine is also a relevant comparison.) For all its superficial discouragement, however, Self Abused is considerably better than it appears: Borrie's voice, when he isn't roaring, is light and appealing, and the songs' melodies and ideas are worth digging through. Besides dropping references to Sir David Attenborough, Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, the starship Enterprise and the Brontës, the literate band works over culture politics in "Bang Bang Bang (Granta 25)" and personal challenges in "Altruism," which promises "If my dreams aren't realized / I'm a future suicide / But I'm still alive."

[Ira Robbins]