I remember seeing Tuk Smith for the first time when his band Biters supported Georgia country rockers Blackberry Smoke over five years ago at the Academy in Bristol. Their second album, The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be, wasn’t exactly what I would usually choose, but there was a combination of Aerosmith’s swagger and Cheap Trick’s cleverness that had an appeal and saw them become quite the darlings of the classic rock movement.
Tuk Smith and The Restless Hearts – Ballad Of A Misspent Youth (MRG)
Release Date: 4 November 2022
Words: Paul Hutchings
It was something of a surprise when they went on indefinite hiatus a year later. However, Smith was merely taking stock after a decade fronting the band, and he was soon back with The Restless Hearts (named after a Biters song), having refocused on his songwriting and very possibly a change of lifestyle and approach. His comment suggests so.
“Things used to be about debauchery,” Tuk says, “and now they’re more about dedication. I mean, I was always driven, but I was sometimes focusing on the wrong things. Now I focus on the music and the craftsmanship of writing and producing and performing.”
Of course, life has a way of throwing the odd spanner in the works and just as Tuk got added to the Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe stadium tour and released debut single What Kinda Love, the world turned on its axis and two years of overhyped panic ensued. For Tuk, like many other musicians, it was time to reset (again!) and dedicate himself to writing. Ballad Of A Misspent Youth is the result.
It may be a relatively short release featuring eight songs, but what it lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. The title track kicks things off with a foot-stomping anthem which sees much of the swagger that Tuk demonstrated in Biters back in full force. There’s a real joyous punch to the song, and it’s a definite well-placed opener. Plenty of Tuk’s influences still surge through, but it’s also got an individual stamp that defines it as his own work.
Despite the more lightweight elements, you catch snippets of bands like New York Dolls, The Clash and Mott the Hoople liberally sprinkled throughout the album. Girls On The East Side Of The Town is a classic storytelling song which, to me, is almost homage to Thin Lizzy and Phil Lynott’s poetic wizardry in its delivery.
Poignant and dramatic in equal measure, Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead is a collection of home truths. A ballad of sorts, it’s got everything from The Beatles to Mötley Crüe, and it works superbly. Tuk’s throaty vocals are well suited to the songs he’s crafted, his smoky voice complementing the layered and complex combination of piano, guitar, and rhythm section.
Shadow On The Street is an arms-in-the-air singalong full of the kind of pop rock that Cheap Trick do so well. Tuk once more adds his own edge to the track, which you cannot help but nod to.
It’s the quality of the compositions that make Ballad Of A Misspent Youth so enjoyable. Combined with an earthy grit and perfectly performed, it is packed with powerful anthems that work in whichever setting you can think of. Ideally, a sweaty club with beer in hand, but equally suited to larger arenas and festivals, the balance of hard rocking and melody makes this an album that you play repeatedly.
Throw in the high-octane energy of the likes of Forgive But Won’t Forget, and you have an album that has achieved everything Tuk set out to do. As the man says, “I decided to make a rock ‘n’ roll record for me, and what I like because there was no label, there was no committee involved…just me and my stories. I wanted to create a setting and an authentic feeling about everything. I reunited with long-time friend Dan Dixon and recorded these songs in his garage studio, and there is a purity to the work that came from all the circumstances of that time.”