Review: Rock’s not dead, neither is Spinal Tap’s bassist


Derek Smalls, “Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)” (BMG)

This album answers a question no one was asking: Is Derek Smalls still alive?

This cover image released by BMG shows “Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)” by Derek Smalls, the “Spinal Tap” character played by Harry Shearer. (BMG via AP)

Smalls was once a bit player in the two-bit heavy metal band Spinal Tap, a group long forgotten except for being the subject of a 1984 mockumentary that ranks among the best movies ever. Now the British bassist (played by comedian Harry Shearer) is attempting a comeback with his solo debut at age 77, and the result is so bad it’s funny. Actually, it’s hilarious.

The sludgy arrangements are thick with every cliche known to metal, from the opening flute to a recitation and brass fanfare, followed by boogie beats, operatic female vocals, syrupy strings and hysterical solos. All that’s missing is an umlaut.

Equally predictable is the subject matter, which ranges from Satan’s hairline (“Hell Toupee”) and MRIs (“MRI”) to cell phones as a pain in the rear (“Butt Call,” bringing the backside to the forefront as the Tap’s “Big Bottom” once did).

An impressive supporting cast includes Donald Fagen, David Crosby, Richard Thompson, Steve Vai, Rick Wakeman and Dweezil Zappa. Alas, Smalls’ explanation for how he recruited such a Hall of Fame lineup is too bawdy to be repeated on the internet, much less in print.

The rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle has clearly taken a toll on Smalls’ voice, and he sings like a character on “The Simpsons.” A couple of tunes go on too long, a reminder it’s a fine line between stupid and clever.

But criticisms aside, there’s wit in nearly every couplet, and the album should play well with Smalls’ demographic — septuagenarians who wear spandex.