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article by: Michael Canter

03 May 2011

CD Review - "2011" by The Smithereens

“........here they're doing what they do best (and haven't done in a while), making this a welcome return to form for anyone who appreciated their muscular approach to pop. ”
~ Mark Deming, allmusic.com



Release Date: 05 April 2011

Genre: Indie Pop/Rock/Adult Power-Pop

Publisher: (C) 2011 Entertainment One Music

Label: eOne Music

Time: 46m 45s

Review Date:03-May-2011

Format: MP3

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Track Listing:

01. Sorry 3:36
02. One Look At You 3:43
03. A World Of Our Own 4:41
04. Keep On Running 3:44
05. Rings On Her Fingers 2:59
06. As Long As You Are Near Me 3:12
07. Bring Back The One I Love 3:39
08. Nobody Lives Forever 2:29
09. Goodnight Goodbye 4:38
10. All The Same 3:22
11. Viennese Hangover 3:14
12. Turn It Around 3:59
13. What Went Wrong 3:33

Review:

"To recapture the excitement of an 'old-school' Smithereens album, we wrote the new songs at a tiny rehearsal room on Avenue B and 6th street on the lower east side of NYC, where we originally rehearsed and wrote all of the tunes for our 1988 Capitol release 'Green Thoughts,' and reunited with our 'Especially for You' and 'Green Thoughts' producer Don Dixon. As a result, I think that we produced an album that sounds like a classic vintage Smithereens album, but is also thoroughly fresh, contemporary and modern-sounding as well."
-- Pat DiNizio



Growing up in Chicago, I vividly remember tuning into WXRT 93.1 FM for the first time in 1989 and hearing "Only A Memory" from the album "Green Thoughts" by The Smithereens. I was immediately hooked on the radio station, and have not listened to another station regularly since. More importantly I became a fan of The Smithereens. In fact, there was a time I refused to admit the band wasn't from Chicago because they were such a huge part of my post-college life's experiences. I selfishly wanted them to be my band, from my hometown, providing my personal young-adult soundtrack. With their latest release, and their first original recording in over a decade, the band recaptures their signature sound of addictive lyrical hooks, robust production and first-rate harmonies. Decidedly indie with an adult power-pop feel, "2011" reverently returns the band to its roots while remaining thoroughly au courant and fresh enough to play amazingly well today.

The Smithereens have historically managed to create an aesthetic density to their music while avoiding the dream-pop shoegaze and power pop balladry that ultimately dooms similar artists. The songs are layered magnificently and intricately without becoming too smart for the listener, but mature and weighty enough to boldly indicate that the band would never be satisfied with producing simply a good indie rock record. The Smithereens strive to overachieve, and do so on many of the tracks on "2011." Previous reviews are ripe with comparisons to bands like the Beatles and The Byrds, but to me, leaning on influences when creating a record doesn't always warrant the obligatory comparisons. I imagine they are flattering enough for the band and their fans, but to me, The Smithereens have their very own sound, i.e., when you hear one of their songs, you know immediately it's The Smithereens. That's a great thing. If genre is defined as the categorical construct that identifies a band's sound, perhaps The Smithereens are a genre in and of themselves.

When it all clicks, The Smithereens are deliriously good. The band has a gestating knack for songwriting and creating hook-laden melodies that counterpoint heavier themes of unrequited love, bitterness and similar intimate concepts. Songs like "Sorry," "Goodnight Goodbye," "A World Of Our Own," "Keep On Running" and "One Look At You" will be familiarly recognizable to fans and can be considered as modern classics that reside comfortably within their historical canon. "Viennese Hangover" has an ethereal Elvis Costello feel to it but is still pure Smithereens.

Familiarity is a good thing. Sometimes critics tend to be a bit over-analytical as to the direction a band follows or diverts from, but as a fan, and for my money, bands like The Smithereens are a guarantee; I find comfort knowing I am always going to get a well-produced album full of good and great songs with no awkward surprises from this band.

In fact, if you were to critique this album on production and mastering values only, it would automatically grade as near-perfect. Don Dixon has done an impeccable job; nothing is over-layered, over-compressed or sonically over-refined. Dixon manages to create a studio version of exactly what the Smithereens sound like in a live environment.

When the Smithereens first met Dixon, they were a hopeful band from the Jersey suburbs looking for a break. He was a record-maker on the rise. His work with R.E.M. on “Murmur” in 1983 had established him as a man with a talent for making underground bands palatable to mainstream audiences without stripping away their rough edges. DiNizio saw Dixon as a kindred spirit — and enlisted the producer to the Smithereens’ cause.

The end product this time around is a dynamic rock record with limited post-production studio effects or computer generated enhancements except a nascent backing echo on "Goodnight Goodbye" and a few judicious keyboard overdubs. This record, like almost anything the band has put out, is refreshingly cohesive and energetic, a perfectly polished blend featuring Jim Babjak on guitar, Dennis Diken on drums and Severo Jornacion on bass. Call me crazy but Diken is the master of the perfectly placed cymbal tap. I take comfort in in that fact and you will too as you listen.

With summer just around the corner it's nice to soak in something that is just a tad ahead of the weather. For me, the Smithereens will always be a reminder of summers in Chicago and specifically the World's Largest Block Party at Old. St. Pat's on Adams and Desplaines Streets. Yes, I take comfort in knowing that The Smithereens are consistent and reliable. The warm weather may not be quite here, but there is an uplifting buoyancy to what lies ahead thanks to this release. It's been far too long since a Smithereens album helped create and define the magic moments of my post-adolescent summers. "2011" is a welcome and far overdue release, an album that will compel you to take the long way when you're driving from or to anywhere, and that is generally the mark of a great album, right? As I stated, familiarity is a great thing. Forgive me then for feeling that this album is a personal gift to me from The Smithereens. But I promise I will be all too happy to share.

About The Smithereens



The Smithereens essentially started out as a working band. After playing in several cover bands, including a handful of prog rock and metal groups, DiNizio was inspired to form his own band after listening to Buddy Holly. Placing an advertisement in a New York paper for musicians influenced by Holly, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and the Clash, DiNizio eventually came into contact with New Jersey high-school students Dennis Diken (drums), Jim Babjak (guitar), and Mike Mesaros (bass), who had all played together in school. By the end of 1980, they had independently released "Girls About Town," an EP featuring four songs with "girl" in the title that was a moderate local success. For the next three years, the group played around New Jersey and New York, not releasing another record until 1983's "Beauty and Sadness." While the EP earned some play on college radio and received a positive review in Rolling Stone, they still had trouble gaining an audience, so they began supporting traveling oldies artists like Otis Blackwell, with whom they recorded an album's worth of material, and the Beau Brummels.

By 1985, the Smithereens were growing frustrated by their lack of progress, as most of the demos they sent to labels were ignored. They did send a demo to Enigma, where Scott Vanderbilt, a former college DJ who was a fan of the band several years earlier, signed the group. In 1986, the band released its debut album, the Don Dixon-produced Especially for You, to positive reviews. On the strength of college airplay, as well as MTV's airing of "Blood and Roses" -- a video financed by a film studio that included the song in the B-movie Dangerously Close -- the album became a moderate hit, climbing to number 51 on the charts and leading to a major-label contract with Capitol. The Smithereens supported the album with an extensive tour, and they recorded their second record weeks after they left the road.

"Green Thoughts" appeared early in 1988, and the first single, "Only a Memory," not only became a college and modern rock hit, but it crossed over to album rock stations as well. The Smithereens made their attempt for big-time album rock success with their third album, "11." Hiring producer Ed Stasium brought a heavier guitar sound, which made "A Girl Like You" -- a song rejected as the theme for the comedy Say Anything -- a Top 40 hit, sending "11" to gold status. "Too Much Passion," the first single from their fourth album, Blow Up, indicated that the new record was more adventurous and produced, and the single became a Top 40 hit.

The release of "2011" finds the Smithereens finally recording a full set of new and original material for the first time since 1999's "God Save the Smithereens," and it represents a return to form in more ways than one. Don Dixon, who produced the group's two best albums, "Especially for You" and "Green Thoughts," returned to the producer's chair for these sessions (with fellow Southern pop icon Mitch Easter engineering), and the sound of the album recalls the dramatic guitar-powered pop of the Smithereens' glory days, with Jim Babjak's guitar sounding as fierce and powerful as ever, while vocalist Pat DiNizio's deep, moody vocals are better matched to these new songs than the covers he's been devoting himself to over the past few years. Drummer Dennis Diken and bassist Severo Jornacion form a tight, emphatic, and imaginative rhythm section.

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