Smithereens “11” doesn’t hook

By Mark McGowan

The first time I heard the Smithereens, I was hooked. Literally.

Alas, the band’s new album, 11, is missing the great melodic hooks Smithereens fans like myself have become spoiled on. The wall of guitars is still screaming and the booming drums are still booming, but the vocal and melodic hooks are gone.

The New Jersey-based band’s earlier albums, 1986’s Especially For You and 1988’s Green Thoughts, were stuffed with ear candy and hooks that grab and won’t let go. “Stangers When We Meet,” the opening track from Especially, is a prime example in its chorus and verse vocals.

Another disturbing move on the new album is the virtual disappearance of band-sung background vocals. The other Smithereens, beside lead vocalist Pat DiNizio, used to provide awesome harmonies and counter melodies, similar to R.E.M.‘s Mike Mills and Robyn Hitchcock’s Egyptians.

Some of these changes are probably due to the band’s changing of producer. Ed Stasium has replaced Don Dixon, who produced their earlier releases. He has given the band a fuller sound by adding more keyboards.

However, I wonder about DiNizio. He’s handled the band’s writing chores since the start and might be at a loss for a new, good idea. Granted, he shaped the band’s sound, but they can only ride it for so long.

DiNizio and bandmates Jim Babjak, lead guitar, bassist Mike Mesaros and drummer Dennis Diken are in good form, but their material is weak. Almost every track reminds one of another song, mainly old Smithereens tunes.

Lyrically, DiNizio has stopped writing the depressing tales of old, which is unfortunate. His old Morrissey-type lines like “I’d rather be dead than to be this lonely” gave the music more character than new ones like “Baby be good/baby every night/better be good/you know it’s only right.”

The quartet seem to be paying homage to their former labelmates, the Beach Boys and the Beatles. “Blue Period” conjures thoughts of “In My Life,” especially during the keyboard solo. The Beatles score again with “Yesterday Girl,” which offers a riff during the verses that is reminiscent of “She Said She Said.”

The Beach Boys are remembered with “Room Without A View,” which is sort of, but not quite, like “In My Room.” The album also sings of “William Wilson,” a strange tribute to the Beach Boys’ founder and composer, Brian Wilson.

Ironically, another singing group founded by Wilson and composed of his former wife and sisters-in-law, The Honeys, sing background vocals for the album.

I really shouldn’t recommend this album. The old ones are so much better, and there’s probably greater things ahead. However, it’s not a bad record if you don’t mind melodies that sound like your professors’ lectures.