Great Sounds Great; Bad Sounds Bad: Flip Grater ‘The Smell Of Strangers’

Flip grater

Great Sounds Great; Bad Sounds Bad is a column which sees a panel of writers for The Corner review a range of local singles and grade them out of 10. Check out the song below, read through their opinions and let us know in the comments section your own thoughts and what you’d like to see reviewed next time around.


[Grade: 5.6]

Eden Bradfield: The lyrical content seems ripped straight out of a creative writing 101 class, the kind where the students are trying to be clever by repeating words and keeping things neat and concise. The first stanza is four words, three words, four words etc per line. Repetition of “the”. Devoid of anything worth writing about, because strangers have been covered better in 1,000,000 different songs (“I just wasn’t made for these times”, “The Stranger Song” and so on) and the barfly atmosphere Grater conjures up – scent of sin/smell of gin is particularly uninteresting.  It wasn’t that good when Tom Waits did it, and Bukowski gets away with it because he’s so funny.

Grater works in the abstract, something said creative writing 101 class would warn students away from ASAP. “strangers”, “sin”, “danger”, “spin” are all non-specific and vague and utterly ineffective. Even when she does get close to something specific “the fall of pelvis/rasp of his chin”, the lines are hopelessly cliched. How many romance writers now have used “rasp of his chin”?

Fine: a badly written song can still hold its own, IF the singer is good enough to carry it off. She isn’t. Grater comes off as a faux-crooner, desperate to create mystique when there is none. The band is uncommitted and probably over-engineered. Look for Pigalle in $1 bargain bins at The Warehouse in 1-2 years.

It gives me no pleasure in writing this. I have enjoyed writing scathing reviews so much more. This is simply the worst thing that I have heard in rather a while, and that just makes me sad more than anything else. [1]

Oliver Carle: Flip Grater’s ‘The Smell Of Strangers’ is a lot of things. It’s got that sort of loping drawling sound reminiscent of artists like Lou Reed or Nick Cave. The gorgeous smoky vocals actually remind me a little bit of the Scarlett Johansson track ‘I Wish I Was In New Orleans’ – for any haters: this is intended as a compliment. The plinky keys and rolling drums create the perfect song you might play when you are depressed and alone on New Years and you only want to make the situation worse, but this is feeling also slightly undercut by a cheerful trumpet line that gives the whole thing this wickedly tragi-festive song. [8]

Nick Raven: This one has Leonard Cohen written all over it. I love the brass section and the marching drums. It’s a classic old school vibe. The lyrics are funky and have a strange rhyme pattern which I really like. Again this is a fine piece of art and I appreciate Flip Grater’s passion for her work. It’s not my cup of tea, but a fine song nonetheless. [6]

Gavin Coughlan: This starts so promisingly, like I have just walked in to a scene in a David Lynch movie where there is a po-faced house band playing to a sparsely populated diner.

Flip Grater has a beautiful, seductive quality to her voice, and the instruments seem to float around it. I love the production, each instrument seems so perfectly balanced. Unfortunately the song doesn’t really go anywhere and stays in exactly the same gear from start to finish. It feels like it’s crying out for a solid chorus, or perhaps just a gentle crescendo, to lift it from just being pleasant to something really special. [5]

Andrew B. White: On my first listen to this it made no impact whatsoever. In fact I was deciding if I could review it at all. If I’m underwhelmed by, or don’t think I can say anything about a song, I usually choose to skip it. My initial reaction, listening on a grey and cold day, was that this was a meandering, relatively tuneless and unmemorable song that didn’t go anywhere. Simply a matter of Flip Grater choosing Parisian locale to make up for substance.

However, I came back the following day to have another listen. The sun was shining and somehow ‘The Smell Of Strangers’ suddenly felt like a completely different song. It was intriguing. The instruments and vocal delivery felt more ‘believable’. It rolled along, or more accurately it ‘lulled’ along. My feeling instantly changed from contempt to one of being somewhat charmed by the whole thing. Generally I’m pretty comfortable with my first impressions of something but in this case I was completely wrong, dammit! From zero to hero in the space of 12 hours. It is possible the sunshine had something to do with it but that’s unlikely as this is definitely a ‘3am’ kind of song. I admit defeat. PS: eating your own words is always easier when you add extra hot chilli sauce. [7]

Stephen Clover: Intrigued, I was, but then ya lost me with awkward syncopation, inappropriate instrumentation and “the fall of pelvis.” Abject lesson in how money can’t buy one noir. [4]

Luke Oram: My wife spent a couple of weeks in Paris a year ago and when she came back it was all “The Louvre”-this and “Croissants by the Siene”-that for about six months.

Clearly, the city of seedy French romance has played out its magic on Madame Grater too – the lyrics of ‘The Smell Of Strangers’ read like Martha Wainwright’s pillow talk:

The lure of danger
Thrill of the win
The smell of strangers
Armpits of men
The fall of pelvis
Rasp of his chin
The smell of strangers
The scent of sin

Musically, it’s all very laid back and French too, Sunday afternoon brass and lazy afternoon strummed narrowboat guitars. It’s cool to hear a Kiwi so heavily influenced by a distant city and able to pull it off. I mean, it’s not a terrible emulation, like a Kiwi garage band trying to pull of a snarling American accent or anything. She’s really wearing it. She has inhabited Paris and it has inhabited her. This track is really beautiful – the album should be a treat. [8]

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