After warming up as a member of such Champaign, Illinois-area combos as Pop the Balloon (with future Velvet Crush-er Ric Menck), the Farmboys and the Elvis Brothers, Adam Schmitt very nearly crafted the perfect pure pop album on his first try with World So Bright. Getting assistance from a couple of drummers (one of them Kenny Aronoff), violinist Lisa Germano and guitarist Jay Bennett from Titanic Love Affair, Schmitt is a DIY pop guy in the grand tradition of artists like Emmitt Rhodes (and more recently, Richard X. Heyman). His well-crafted songs are mega-tuneful guitar-driven gems with hooks galore and lyrics that rise above the prosaic “boy meets girl/boy loses girl/boy misses girl/boy goes looking for another girl” fodder. In the dense and electric “River Black,” for example, the protagonist drowns a woman who refuses to give him the time of day. More conventional winners are the acoustic (with strings) harmony exercise “Elizabeth Einstein,” the somber ballad “Lost,” the shimmering “Scarlet Street” and the hit-in-a-perfect-world “Can’t Get You on My Mind.” Schmitt’s winningly boyish voice and the smooth, radio-friendly production are the sweet icing on a delicious cake.
The harder-rocking tone of Illiterature is something of a shock. Not only does Schmitt throw some (gasp!) grungier numbers into the mix, some of the song lengths ominously exceed the six-minute mark. Beyond the initial blow of hearing Schmitt scream (think John Lennon on “Twist and Shout”) over distorted guitars on the Cheap Trick-ish opener, “Just Listen,” however, Illiterature is a strong sophomore success. It’s certainly moodier than World So Bright; some of the tunes — like “Thanks for Showing,” a supremely bitter kiss-off to a broken relationship, and the downright cranky title track — find Schmitt uncharacteristically agitated. But while turning the amps up and penning lyrics like “We got no chance to change the world/It’s dumped on us to save it” may smack of pandering to a Gen-X audience, Schmitt’s unerring melodic skill helps keep Illiterature from going off the tracks. In the time before his third album, Demolition, Schmitt kept busy as a producer for Tommy Keene, Honcho Overload, Hum, Titanic Love Affair and others.