|Nov/Dec 1999 Music Review|
There are moments on this latest offering from Pat DiNizio and company when one experiences the auditory equivalent of slipping on the old high school letterman's jacket. The Smithereens are back, with their trademark chords, riffs and lyrics. Like The Cars, The Smithereens are an eighties band that made their mark with a distinctive style and a quintessential eighties combination of plaintiveness and almost-too-cool-to-care attitude. They don't appear to have evolved much in the last twenty years, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
The Smithereens consist of four guys that have been playing together for twenty years. While that longevity doesn't make them unique, it does put them in good company with other bands that have been around for two or more decades (for some reason, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band comes to mind: four guys who have been together since 1966). Producer Don Fleming writes in the liner notes that the Smithereens are "the band that Buddy Holly died for." What that means, I have no idea. I tried listening to the album again with Buddy in mind, in case I'd missed something before. I got nothing. But it certainly wasn't painful to hear the album again.
"My girl, she's extraordinary. My girl, she's different from the rest."
With these lines, and really the first couple songs, we're off and running with good Smithereens stuff. Nothing too profound, but with an affecting tinge of minor notes, suggesting something meaningful and melancholy. Here the suggestion works--I buy it. Carrie Akre's backing vocals on the second track, "House at the End of the World," which she co-wrote with the band, sound great. Track number three: "Everything changes, but nothing is stronger than love." The truth is that if you listen too carefully to the average Smithereens song, you realize it's a lot more style than substance. Usually, though, it's easy to forgive or not even notice the occasional triteness of the lyrics and just enjoy the moody, driving atmosphere. Track four, "Flowers in the Blood," is a good example of this. Never mind that there is a line that says "Won't you listen to the voice inside your head; it's a voice that wants you dead; it will eat all that you give..."
On track five, "The Long Lonliness," the feel of the album shifts from what I remember as the typical Smithereens sound from the eighties to something a little more pop oriented. A little more cheerful and inventive. A little less, well, Smithereenish. I have to be honest here though and say I haven't listened to all their old stuff, so I can't say if these songs represent breaking new ground for the band or not. For me, though, the spell created by the first four tracks is broken. "Gloomy Sunday" almost brings it back, but in the end, I'm left wearing my old high school letter jacket and feeling kinda foolish. It's like they want me to take their music more seriously than I do, and when I'm obliged to take it more seriously, it just doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Suddenly the old power chords and the cliched lyrics don't fly anymore.
The album ends with "The Last Good Time," and the closing lyrics are "Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye." Indeed.
I give it a groovy factor of three. Because it is the Smithereens, and there are some strong moments, particularly on the first half of the album. If you're a fan of the band or a child of the eighties, you have reason to spend your hard-earned income on this album. Otherwise, probably not.