Tim Smith, the lead singer and guitarist of cult British rock band The Cardiacs, died on Tuesday (July 22) at age 59.
Smith’s passing was confirmed by brother and bandmate Jim Smith, who wrote, “I’m sorry, on such a glorious day, to tell you the news that my dearest brother Tim passed away suddenly last night. Sorry it’s a brief message but I don’t have it in me to speak at length just now. Love to you all. Be safe.”
At press time no further information was available on the cause of Smith’s death, though according to NME he had been ill since suffering a heart attack in 2008, which led to his developing the rare neurological condition dystonia.
The group — which formed as Cardiac Arrest in 1977 with Smith as the guitarist and primary lyricist — quickly established a reputation for their wild, whip-saw style, which folded in art rock, jazz, psychedelia, metal, prog and punk into a roiling musical stew topped by Smith’s anarchic vocals and hard-to-decipher lyrics.
The group’s mission was amplified by their theatrical performance style, which often incorporated off-putting makeup, costumes, video displays and seeming on-stage confrontations.
In a 2015 profile of Smith, a writer for The Guardian suggested that those who could not understand the group’s approach might see it as, “a ghastly dungheap of quirky self-indulgence and forced weirdness,” while those, like him, who delighted in the oddities love them, “with a fervour that makes Southern Baptists in the throes of worship seem like uninterested wallflowers.”
Describing their music, the writer said, “Cardiacs sound unhinged, the sound of a manic brain firing off jarring time changes and baffling words. Songs sometimes sound like the players involved are trying to catch each other out, only to suddenly blossom into rapturous, pristine melody. The band reject the most common tag attached to them, that of ‘prog punk,’ but there’s a certain truth in it, as they deliver jarring, wonky arrangements with thrashy intensity. But then you have to throw in elements like nursery rhymes, sea shanties, sweet psychedelia, vast hymnal shout-alongs and the occasional, incongruously straightforward rock anthem.”
Beloved by younger fellow experimental bands such as Radiohead and Faith No More/Mr. Bungle, the group released eight albums during their three-decade run, beginning with 1980’s The Obvious Identity (as Cardiac Arrest) through their final full-length, 1999’s Guns.
Like fellow progressive art pranksters The Residents’ Cryptic Corporation, the Cardiacs established a record label and purported omniscient management company with an ominous name, The Alphabet Business Concern, which they claimed sought to unfairly harness their creative ambitions and which often seemed to be at odds with their own artists.
Smith was born in Surrey, England, in 1961 and originally formed the group with his brother Jim, as well as vocalist Michael Pugh and drummer Peter Tagg; more than a dozen keyboardist, percussionists, vocalists and saxophone players cycled through the group over the years.
Check out some of the Cardiacs music and a few tributes to Smith below.
Incredibly sad to hear about the passing of Cardiacs’ Tim Smith. A unique musical mind, a wonderful man. What a shit day. But he’ll always be the dazzling light at the centre of a huge musical family.
— Rhodri Marsden (@rhodri) July 22, 2020
Pitchshifter would like to pay tribute to Cardiacs and Tim Smith on this day of his passing.
Says JS: “A sad day for music. Tim Smith was a very creative and talented individual. Use this day to discover/rediscover his music. RIP, Tim.” pic.twitter.com/iGlf7MT83J
— Pitchshifter (@Pitchshifter) July 22, 2020
We have lost the leader of the starry skies. Dr Tim Smith, the genius behind #Cardiacs, has died after twelve years of illness. The funniest, kindest bugger I’ve ever called friend. Love you Tim. #RIPTimSmith Shhh, here comes the #BigShip https://t.co/qLbKmAVkDS pic.twitter.com/wZXTqFr4UD
— Jamie Kelsey Fry (@JamieKelseyFry) July 22, 2020
Very saddened to hear about the passing of Tim Smith, an extraordinary and bonkers talent, and many bands I love wouldn’t exist without Cardiacs. This is one of the greatest songs ever. Can’t imagine the suffering he has endured over the past decade. RIP.https://t.co/R89MnJ8Bx1
— Alex (@lambofsod) July 22, 2020
Rest In peace Tim Smith. I can remember the first time I ever saw The Cardiacs on tv playing Tarred and Feathered. Was like a majestic fever dream, insane and yet not insane all at the same time. The world is worse off without you. pic.twitter.com/C5PuHfCWvH
— ‡ __ℑ ‡ (@NamuratheLock) July 22, 2020
Absolutely devastated to hear that the Leader of the Starry Skies himself Tim Smith has died. My hero and one of the great unheralded musical geniuses.
I know that so many had hoped that he would be able to make more of his magical music again.
Love you Tim x#cardiacs #timsmith pic.twitter.com/FMd4uRgmHn
— Dominic Jones (@DGJones84) July 22, 2020