Smitten is technically The Martinis’ second album, but it might as well be their first. The eponymous 1998 self-release from former (and current, I suppose, considering the group’s opportunistic reunion) Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago and his wife Linda Mallari is all but impossible to find, and has been scaled back to the status of “demo” by some fansite discographies. You’ll have better luck locating the disc’s opening track, “Free,” the rather impressive pop tune the pair did for the Empire Records soundtrack nine years ago.
This album continues along The Martinis’ stated m.o.: industry-standard laments or exultations of love wrapped in accessible, radio-friendly melodies. Well, mostly. “Flyer,” which appeared in the middle of the 1998 release, is a crunching, chugging, howling, clichéd mess of a song, marred further by self-conscious quirkiness. Thankfully it doesn’t even last a full two minutes. “Right Behind You” is more in keeping with the band’s pop sensibilities, and is a better song for it. This is where listeners will find hooks and choruses similar to the ones on which The Pixies’ reputation rests, not to mention a true demonstration of Mallari’s vocal talent, alternating between monotone stoicism and compelling entreaties. After this, nothing is really worth mentioning. Nothing at all. Even “Big Three Wheeler” sacrifices a decent tune to a contrived attempt at nostalgic humor. The one distinctly different song, a piano ballad called “Into the Meadow,” suffers from trite lyrics sung with laughably desperate earnestness. An appropriate way, perhaps, to close out the album.
Smitten has a few things to like about it, but it has even more to dismiss. Critics’ recurring Breeders comparisons are in most cases sadly apt, and this will put off listeners who have no desire to hear a tribute act; and yet fans of Kim Deal’s band will invariably be left feeling shortchanged by The Martinis’ blandness. Any additional originality on Smitten has been leached away by overproduction, so that even the rare moments of raw emotion have a layer of thick, prettifying veneer over them.