The things that work best about The Low Anthem’s sophomore LP, Smart Flesh, are the very same things that keep it from being a truly great album. Recorded in a 40,000 square foot abandoned pasta sauce factory in Central Falls, R.I., Smart Flesh isn’t a particularly structured album. Songs come and go without much of a pause, making this a difficult album to listen to peripherally. It also makes Smart Flesh a tedious album to consume in one sitting. But, take each song individually and you can see the care with which they were written and recorded.
Smart Flesh is littered with vivid imagery reminiscent of Bob Dylan, during his heyday. Take “Hey, All You Hippies!” for example. Originally released on what would have been Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday, the song is a tongue-in-cheek jab at hippies and Reaganites alike.
When they’re not citing history, The Low Anthem like to pepper their music with literary references. “Apothecary Love” uses an extended metaphor to compare the modern-day dive bar to the 14th century apothecary. At the same time, it brings to mind literary classic Romeo and Juliet. Likewise, “Golden Cattle” elicits thoughts of the Greek myth Helios and his cattle of the sun and “Love and Altar” has biblical allusions.
Of the regular album cuts, “I’ll Take Out Your Ashes” is the most transfixing. In less than 4 minutes time, the quartet is able to create a fully-formed story about a man who can’t part with his mother’s ashes, even though she specifically asked him to spread them in the greater Michigan area. The iTunes Version of Smart Flesh includes four additional songs, most of which are superfluous. There is, however, one exception: “Maybe So,” is an inspired piece of songwriting that rivals almost every song that did make the record.