Review: Derek Smalls ‘Goes To Eleven’ With Album, ‘Smalls Change’

Derek Smalls new album Smalls Change


Derek Smalls is actor-musician Harry Shearer’s bass-playing character in “This Is Spinal Tap,” the funniest rock parody of all time. Thematically, the album sort of picks up where the movie left off. But rather than follow a clueless quartet of hard rockers through the mysteries of an unsuccessful rock ‘n’ roll career, Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing) looks in on the trials and tribulations of an aging rock ‘n’ roller.

Also, instead of ‘getting the band back together,’ Shearer (as Smalls) enlisted a few natural guests (Rick Wakeman, Dweezil Zappa, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai), as well as some surprises (Donald Fagen, David Crosby). The results aren’t nearly as consistently funny as the songs from the “This Is Spinal Tap” soundtrack, but when it’s up to that project’s high standard, it’s a whole lot of fun for rock ‘n’ roll fans.

Spinal Tap broke sound barriers - Photo courtesy Derek Smalls
Spinal Tap broke sound barriers – Photo courtesy Derek Smalls

Of course, sex jokes are plentiful. “Memo to Willie” is a song directed at, well, the male member. Donald Fagen reprises his chorus to “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” only this time he sings, “Willie don’t lose that lumber.” Those that may believe Steely Dan music to be sacred rock ‘n’ roll text might consider this revisionism to be musical blasphemy. David Crosby joins in the desperation-for-merch money “Gimme Some (More) Money,” which is a kind of sequel to Spinal Tap’s “Gimme Some Money.”

The album’s two best song titles are “Hell Toupee,” which is a great pun all by itself, and “She Puts the Bitch in Obituary,” which features Richard Thompson and actress Jane Lynch, who plays the role of the especially bitchy woman. She notes, “You haven’t flossed in 17 years/What’s living in those teeth, anyway?” Sample Shearer sung lyric: “You’ll be the target of the hatchet she won’t bury.”

'Smalls Change' enlists a range of players - Photo courtesy Derek Smalls
‘Smalls Change’ to be released on April 13, enlists a range of players – Photo courtesy Derek Smalls

The album closes with the progressive rock epic, “When Men Did Rock,” which includes plenty of Yes-y Rick Wakeman keyboard runs, as well as some fine Joe Satriani guitar licks. Lyrically, the song has fun with heavy metal’s myth making tendency. “Once upon a time when giants walked the Earth/They didn’t brandish swords and scimitars/They won their losses with basses and guitars.” Did we really fall for this silly fantasy stuff as youths?

Shearer proves with Smalls Change (Meditations upon Ageing) that both rock ‘n’ roll stereotypes and aging offer endless opportunities for satire. Keep on rockin’ AARP!