Smooth Big Cat is an album about a bluesy musician wiling away his days with sex, drugs and melodies. It’s a relaxed, creamy ode to the rock and roll lifestyle. On his second album as Dope Lemon, Angus Stone sings of drinking while blues records play and girls who beckon with their bodies while riding mechanical bulls. There’s floating influences of bluesy Californian folk, harmonicas and peachy percussion, with claves ringing out like the sounds of coconuts, trembling waves of guitar and small soulful strips of guitar riffs, all compacting into a feeling like a fog or a smoke descending upon your mood.
The first track Hey You, was released as a single earlier this year along with an intriguing video clip of people in large animal masks and a lemon head riding a horse. The track sets the scene for the album, starting with a thin bass line and a splintered snare, then that magnetic guitar comes in along with a little xylophone and a sprinkle of an 80s keyboard melody.
Salt & Pepper is a song entirely devoted to “a big night” and “having a good time”. The electric guitar seems to move through the song like water drops on a pond, as a continuous synth groans in the background and the tambourine, an unsung hero, provides most of the general mood for the song. Salt & Pepper conjures up comparisons to The Doors, and their moody Californian blues rock. Hey Little Baby is a lovely, floaty track with a layered introduction that helps you to appreciate the trifle of guitars used. The music moves like waves lapping at the shore in shallow waters, while a small, sweet whistle comes in to guide you out of the song and lull you into the next one. Give Me Honey is a relaxed and buttery track, and you can almost physically see the palm fronds swaying and Angus sitting in between them with a coconut and a couple of lines of coke.
Lonely Boys Paradise, The Midnight Slow and Mechanical Bull bring a darker tone back to the album and pull at essences of Jim Morrison and Lou Reed. The tracks are slow and seductive conveying scenes of debauchery and making you feel like you’re flying down route 666 in a red convertible. In particular, Lonely Boys Paradise urges comparisons to the Eagles classic Hotel California, especially with the lyric “you can check in but you can never leave”. That familiarity brings the track even more meaning and potential.
Dope & Smoke starts with a dreamy synth, the bongos come in and then what sounds like an organ piano seeps into the pool of guitar licks and gravelly vocals. Smooth Big Cat, the title track, starts off intriguingly with a tizzy of drums, and then violin and flute reminiscent of the silver screen opens the song out. Angus sings of a “Smooth Big Cat”, who likes to drink, listen to blues records and take cocaine. The song continues along smoothly with invading distorted guitar poking in and out before “no need to worry” reverberates and echoes, bringing the 50s silver screen soundscape back in to carry the song out.
Dope Lemon’s debut album Honey Bones came out over three years ago was well received and had input from Rohin Brown (of the Walking Who) and Elliot Hammond (of the Delta Riggs). Honey Bones in contrast has more of a crunch to it, which made it feel grittier and perhaps more earnest and reflective, particularly with tracks like Fuck Things Up, Uptown Folks and How Many Times. Smooth Big Cat is more of a coordinated atmosphere; dark and seductive whilst still playful, yet not particularly emotive. Like a big cat stalking its prey, it’s carefully precise and graceful.
The final song on the album is jarring in its stripped back rawness, wholly different to the first nine tracks. Hey Man Don’t Look at Me Like That is all wistful harmonica, earnest lyrics and ruffled whistling with sugary vocals from Angus and a mysterious female. The track feels like the winding down from a large party, the quieter moment after the storm as the Big Smooth Cat goes to rest and recuperate. This is perhaps my favourite part of the album because it’s so unexpected yet is such a perfect ending to a 10 track journey through the lifestyle of a modern day rolling stone.