(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, May 23, 2011

CD review - Smithereens, Smithereens 2011 (2011)

The Smithereens had a sweet classic sound back in the late '80s. As one of several tight bands playing alt rock power pop, they stood out based on their songwriting chops and tight harmonies around Pat DiNizio's crooning vocals. Listening to Smithereens 2011 makes me want to dig out my skinny ties and straight leg jeans all over again. Even though it's been 12 years since the band's full original release, the Smithereens have preserved their signature sound. If anything, they're even smoother and slicker in their arrangements.

During the 12 year wait, they've release a couple of cover projects, including their version of the Who's Tommy (2009), and a couple of Beatles tributes. Smithereens 2011 trades heavily on the Beatles side of their sound, as they reach for the same harmonies, lyrical economies, and jangly George Harrison guitar. While those influences are scattered across the album, One Look at You hits it the strongest . If it weren't for DiNizio's distinctive voice, I could almost mistake it for Badfinger. Severo Jornacion's bass line soars melodically through the track.

The lead off single, Sorry, could have come off any of the Smithereen's earlier albums. The crystalline power pop sound smoothly melds '60s mod rock with '80s alt. "I would like to say I'm sorry, but I won't" -- it captures the smirking attitude of the '80s. It's a good choice to reassure old fans that the band is true to its roots, but most of the album satisfies that goal.

Fortunately, even though the Smithereens are products of their initial era, it's a sound that translates well to a contemporary sound. Retro sounds are big now, so the scene has caught back up with bands like the Smithereens again. I'm glad that the band is asking people to accept them on their own terms, though. If they had reached out more to a modern sound by throwing in some glitchy electronics or precious lo-fi treatment, it would have seemed calculated and patronizing. Instead, the Smithereens are offering a gift to their longtime fans and potential new audience.

There are a couple songs that stood out from the baseline. Goodnight Goodbye seems to evoke a bit of fellow New Jerseyans, Bon Jovi (a touch of Wanted Dead or Alive). Viennese Hangover shows some of the Smithereens' Who style psychedelia. Both of these songs hit the classic Smithereens sound, but pushed the boundaries a bit.

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