The Smithereens

The Smithereens were one of the better retro-pop bands of the '80s. Inspired by their heartfelt love of mid-'60s garage pop with a modern crunch, the Smithereens' tunes made a welcome addition to a radio cluttered with bad hair bands. Lead singer/songwriter Pat DiNizio sang with the nerdy voice of a sad-sack sensitive type who couldn't score the girl of his dreams, and sported a non-hip goatee like Maynard Krebs. The Smithereens dressed like beatniks and wrote snappy, rockingly melodic songs of girl/boy angst, as if it were still 1965 and they didn't want the hippies to take over just yet. Retro-pop references abound on all of their records; to tell the truth, lots of '80s bands featured a fond nostalgia for the '60s - just like lots of '90s bands have '70s nostalgia (god save us, in the next decade '80s nostalgia will take over!). They just did it better than most, thanks to a surfeit of good, solid tunecraft.

Dave's Smithereens Page is a nice, big site dedicated to the 'Reens, as they are affectionately known by their fans.

Girls About Town EP (1982)

Their first release. 4 songs with the word "girl" in the title, including the Beach Boys' "Girl Don't Tell Me".

Beauty and Sadness EP (1983)
Especially For You (1986) ***1/2

The first full length is easily their best: DiNizio's hooks have never been stronger. "Strangers When We Meet", "Blood & Roses", "Alone at Midnight", "Groovy Tuesday", and "Behind the Wall of Sleep" contain all of the elements that make the Smithereens such an enjoyable band: hard-hitting garage rock meets ragged British Invasion pop with enough modern touches to keep it relevant. DiNizio's view of romance gets rather moody, but the band rocks hard enough to pull his songs out of sappy Morissey-ville: "I want to love but I don't know how," is a lyric that deserves a good smack on the rear end, but "Blood & Roses" is effortlessly affecting. DiNizio's songwriting can be hit and miss, however: the ballad "In a Lonely Place" drifts, and junk culture ditties "Cigarette" and the CD-only "White Castle Blues" are simply generic. Well recommended to fans of hard-hitting, slightly alternative pop-rock.

Green Thoughts (1988) ***1/2

The Smithereens easily dodge any sophomore slump with this release, delivering yet more examples of winning tunecraft. Their playing has improved, sanding off a few of the rougher garage edges of the first album and settling them into a likable mid-tempo range. Doesn't rock as hard as the first album, though. "Only A Memory", "House That We Used To Live In", "Drown In My Own Tears" (call Hank Williams, Pat), the Hollies-ish "Elaine", the dark, stalker rock "Spellbound", and the lyrically bouyant (!) "If the Sun Doesn't Shine" are highlights of this charming and quite tuneful album.

11 (1990) ***

Their biggest-selling album (it went gold) beefs up the guitars for stadium-rock crunch, best heard on the hit, "Girl Like You". It's not all loud hard rock, as one would assume from the singles: "Blue Period" borrows cello from the Left Banke, and the Smiths-like guitar hook of guitar Jim Babjak's "Cut Flowers" makes it a highlight of side two. In fact, this album doesn't sound radically different from the previous two albums, only slightly more modern and professional. This time around, DiNizio seems to have misplaced a hook here or there, resulting in an album that's slightly lackluster compared to their previous efforts. More '60s allusions abound: "William Wilson" sports a Kinks melody that leads into the refrain "Let him run wild" (maybe they should've just called it "Brian Wilson"); "Maria Elena" concerns Buddy Holly's widow.

Blow Up (1991) **1/2

A boring retread that finds the Smithereens short on tunes and ideas. They try to blatantly rewrite the formula of 11's biggest hits umpteen times, right down to the guitar tone (and melodies). "Tell Me When Things Went Wrong" - when you bring in the dreaded schlockmonger Diane Warren to cowrite, that's when! And also when you repeat yourself so much: don't the very titles of "Girl in Room 12" ("Room Without a View"), "If You Want the Sun to Shine" ("If the Sun Doesn't Shine"), and "Over and Over Again" ("Time and Time Again") smack of unimaginative self-plagiarism? A few scattered moments, notably "It's Alright" (buried near the end as track #11) make this kind-of-OK, but not enough for me to listen to this CD again.

Date With the Smithereens (1994)

Their latest, and apparently last, album.

Blown To Smithereens (1995)

The inevitable best-of compilation.

Attack of the Smithereens (1995)

The inevitable rarities compilation.

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