Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Smithereens 7: Beatles and Tommy

The new century would keep the Smithereens occasionally busy touring, but without a record deal there seemed to be no point in recording new albums of original material. Meanwhile, Pat DiNizio tried running for public office, then contracted some kind of medical condition that required treatment via Prednisone, sending his body weight well over 300 pounds. He also started his own website, on which he occasionally posted in all caps and booked his “living room concerts”, open to anyone willing to pony up the dough. He also hawked homemade compilations of Smithereens demos and live versions, and recorded This Is Pat DiNizio. Distributed in a confusing array of multiple-disc configurations, it presented him singing pop hits from the rock era, accompanied by acoustic guitar or piano.
Already a capable replicator of power pop classics, it wasn’t big a jump for him to convene his old band for Meet The Smithereens!, a song-for-song duplication of the first Beatle LP on Capitol Records. The band sounds great, and they’ve obviously lived every one of these songs, but by staying so close to the blueprints—their excuse being that serious musicians wouldn’t take liberties with Beethoven or Mozart—they don’t really add anything to the experience, unless you thought the voices of the Fab Four pale in comparison to that of Pat DiNizio.

Beatlemaniacs will buy anything, seemingly, so that 27-minute album was followed a year later by another of the same length. B-Sides The Beatles offered a slightly more imaginative track selection, leaning more on the band’s less obvious early album tracks (and yes, B-sides). This time, however, guitarist Jim Babjak is allowed to sing lead on two tracks, and drummer Dennis Diken gets his own spotlight. Next to the commissioned Jack Davis cover art, the campiest touch is having Jersey transplant Andy White play drums on “P.S. I Love You”, just as he displaced Ringo on the original recording. What ultimately gives this volume a slight edge over its predecessor is the choices of the rare instrumental “Cry For A Shadow” and the closing “Some Other Guy”. (More recently the band has issued yet another Beatle tribute, wherein they commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fabs’ Washington Coliseum concert with another re-recorded note-for-note set, complete with overdubbed screams. We’ll pass.)

Perhaps just to prove they were capable of something a little heavier (and headier), their next tribute presented an abridged selection of songs from the Who’s original Tommy album. The focus here isn’t so much on the story but the songs that rock harder, skipping things like “Underture”, “1921”, “Cousin Kevin”, and any reference to a perverted uncle. Well played, certainly, but while we get some variety with five of the songs sung by band members who aren’t Pat, none of the vocalists approach Roger Daltrey’s power or Pete Townshend’s vulnerability. Still, it’s a less obvious choice for a remake album, and the arrangements are closer to the Who’s eventual stage versions. The cover gimmick this time is using legendary bootleg artist William Stout, and most amazingly, the program tops 40 minutes.

The Smithereens Meet The Smithereens! (2007)—2
The Smithereens B-Sides The Beatles (2008)—
The Smithereens The Smithereens Play “Tommy”! (2009)—3

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