If you remember The Smithereens at all, you probably remember them for the handful of sixties-influenced records the New Jersey quartet released at the tail end of the 1980s. Inspired by the likes of The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks and Buddy Holly, The Smithereens came on like a breath of fresh air in an era that emphasised style over content. There was no big hair, there were no cheesy synths or over-compressed drums, just good, honest pop-rock loaded with hooks and emotion. Songs like Blood And Roses, Only A Memory, Behind The Wall Of Sleep and House We Used To Live In received a good amount of MTV play…featuring Pat DiNizio’s moody lyrics and Jim Babjak’s powerful, yet melodic guitar playing.
The band seemed to run out of steam when grunge took hold, reverting back to their bar-band roots. Over the past 5 or 6 years they’ve been relatively prolific, but the albums (2 Beatles tributes, a remake of The Who’s Tommy, a Christmas album and a live release) revealed a band creatively exhausted.
2011 is The Smithereens’ first collection of new, original music in a decade. Fortunately the band and their sound remain basically intact. Original bass player Mike Mesaros split about five years ago, but the rest of the band is here along with producer Don Dixon who helmed the group’s best late 80s recordings. The title and artwork of 2011, is a reference to their most popular album, 1989’s 11.
Musically not much has changed. The band still wears their 60’s influences proudly on their sleeves and DiNizio’s lyrics still deal with the frustrations of love. Sorry, the album’s opener, kicks off with a feisty guitar wallop, then DiNizio sings, “things get better when we’re apart cause every time we’re together you break my heart…I would like to say I’m sorry but I won’t. Yep, there’s plenty of the old angst and resentment left for the new millennium. Just like the old days, Babjak chimes in with a fierce guitar solo that cuts through the layers of sound.
One Look At You contains a guitar line “inspired” by The Beatles’ Day Tripper along with a melodic bass line from new guy Severo Jornacion. McCartney would be proud. A World Of Our Own is darker and more atmospheric. “Please just leave us alone” pleads Pat, while Keep On Running sports an urgent, Kinks-y guitar riff and a slashing Davies-ish solo.
And so it goes. The album’s thirteen tracks sound fresh yet familiar. My only complaint would be DiNizio’s lyrics. The man has to be in his late 40s, at least, yet he still seems to be dealing with romance like a teenager. For instance, on Bring Back The One I Love, he claims that his girl is “the only one for me”. I’m sure he could come up with something a bit more mature and insightful if he tried.
Otherwise, this is a fine return to form for a band that has been out in the cold for far too long.
Click here to listen to Keep On Running from 2011: