If someone called me a Tough Cookie I would feel part-charmed and part-irked for being referred to in such a diminutive way. That mostly sums up my feelings about Calgary native Samantha Savage Smith’s debut album—endeared, but a little annoyed.
Tough Cookie is a feisty solo project that could lend itself to infinite female singer songwriter comparisons, but Smith sets herself apart not just because her voice is beautiful and uniquely wiry, but because the band gives a fuller sound and the tracks offer up the occasional surprise.
The album starts out corny but moves into some surprising upturns. Smith is at her best when the cheesiness is turned up to eleven. “The Score” is a cheery song offset by dark lyrics that recalls ‘60s girl groups who sang about desperation in an unnervingly upbeat fashion. Similarly with “The Fight,” the electric guitar swells and defiant tone are so weird after her two previously adorable tracks (“Devilman,” “Keep It In A Box”) that it’s difficult not to get caught up.
Still, overall, the variety leaves something to be desired and the album often slips back into the same old “love isn’t always fun” stuff. For the most part Smith is sweet, bordering on saccharine. And while she has her redeeming qualities it won’t be until she makes another album that it will be clear whether she can really strike out with something truly unique.