Detroit’s Outrageous Cherry have been making records for close to twenty years now, ranging from experimental psychedelic excursions such as 2001’s The Book of Spectral Projections to pure AM radio inspired and reverb-laced pop. The brainchild of vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Matthew Smith, the group has had a revolving door membership over the years with one constant, Smith’s partner in crime, guitarist extraordinaire Larry Ray. When I listen to Outrageous Cherry I am constantly reminded about something Smith told me in an interview I conducted five years ago on behalf of their then new record on Rainbow Quartz Records, Our Love Will Change The World. Smith noted that from the band’s initial baby steps, “Outrageous Cherry was supposed to be a bubblegum band. I envisioned the Archies, if Leonard Cohen had written their songs to pay the rent.”
As simple as that statement sounds, there’s a ring of truth to it on almost every Outrageous Cherry recording. Smith has a genius knack for infusing subversive messages and arrangements into seriously catchy pop songs that will stay in your head for days. Like all bands that have been around for more than an album or two, Outrageous Cherry have had their highs and lows in terms of popularity. The group seemed to be riding a nice wave five years ago when Rainbow Quartz released the aforementioned Our Love, as well as the following year’s Stay Happy. Both of those records emphasized the band’s more pop-oriented side with a hit parade’s worth of peppy radio-friendly nuggets. With the backing of an influential and successful indie label known for its focus on ‘60s and ‘70s influenced artists, it seemed like Outrageous Cherry might finally achieve some long-deserved mainstream success. This coincided with the championing of the band by influential DJ Little Steven Van Zandt, who released an excellent compilation of Outrageous Cherry’s work entitled Wide Awake in the Spirit World on his Wicked Cool imprint in 2008. Sadly, Outrageous Cherry still remains too much of a best-kept secret in the mainstream, though fellow artists, such as Wilco and New Pornographers love them, the latter even releasing an Outrageous Cherry covers EP! In any case, after a brief recording hiatus post-Stay Happy, Outrageous Cherry came back with a bang on 2009’s phenomenal Universal Malcontents on Alive Records. While Alive is much more known for their garage and punk acts, the label seems to be a nice fit for Outrageous Cherry. For one thing, I can’t think of any label that has done more for Detroit artists than Alive (check out their latest signing The Sights!), and, especially its sister label Bomp! Records, formed by the late Greg Shaw, who put out numerous MC5 and Stooges archival releases during a time when no one seemed to care about either artist.
Like Universal Malcontents, Seemingly Solid Reality is a perfect marriage of all of the genres that inspire Smith, namely ‘60’s bubblegum and ‘70’s AM radio pop with a dash of psychedelic sound to keep things off kilter. To quote Smith, “I grew up on that early ‘70s pop radio when all those different things were mixed up. Things weren’t divided into different formats. Back then it was Anne Murray next to Deep Purple next to Kool and the Gang next to T. Rex. Nobody complained. If you tried to do that nowadays, people would think you were expecting too much of them. Today, it would be an act of political insurrection to play the Beatles next to Gordon Lightfoot and Kool and the Gang all in the same hour.” Seemingly opens with a bang on the alluring title track instrumental, which brings to mind the vibe of David Bowie’s “Heroes” with a hard-hitting glam guitar sound, a perfect mood setter for the excellence that follows. Much of the album outlines the contrasts that have been prominent throughout Smith’s writing career, namely, upbeat arrangements with deep, thought provoking messages such as on “Unbalanced in the City,” an account of urban alienation set to a punchy T. Rex beat. Other highlights include the Modern Lovers-like stomp of “Self-Made Monster” and “Forces of Evil,” which is laced with a sinister psychedelic guitar sound courtesy of Smith and Ray. My favorite song is the finale, “The Unimportant Things,” reminiscent of solo John Lennon, featuring one of Smith’s strongest vocal performances to date.