Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Smithereens 1: Especially For You

A band that presented power equal to their pop, the Smithereens were around a long time before becoming mainstream. Their debut EP, 1980’s Girls About Town, presented four songs with “girl” in the title—three originals, plus a cover of the Beach Boys’ “Girl Don’t Tell Me”. It’s bouncy, jangly pop, though Pat DiNizio had yet to develop his mopey baritone, sounding a lot like Joe Jackson on the title track. 1983’s Beauty And Sadness, reissued after the band got big, has a different gimmick; this title track’s drums are right out of “Tomorrow Never Knows”, “Some Other Guy” shares its title with an early Beatles cover, while “Much Too Much” is also the name of a Who song, but here sounds like the Stray Cats. “Tracey’s World” is an upbeat lovelorn lament in the spirit of the girl groups.
By the time of their first album, DiNizio learned to write songs in different styles, while the band found their ideal sound by running their Rickenbackers through Marshall amps. Especially For You straddles bona fide ‘60s pop with the brooding jangle recently popularized by R.E.M. and other college rock bands. “Strangers When We Meet” is a crackling opener, with harmonies equal parts Beach Boys and Hollies, and a title like “Groovy Tuesday” could only have come from a mind stuck to the radio. That’s how “Listen To Me Girl” is a cousin of The Who’s “Circles” with harmonica replacing the French horn, “I Don’t Want To Lose You” ends with the solo from “Feel A Whole Lot Better”, “Time And Time Again” turns on a riff everybody’s fudged, and “Crazy Mixed-Up Kid” is pure Beatles ‘65.
But you’ll be hard pressed to find a ‘60s equivalent to the menace in “Blood And Roses”. Name-drops of Bill Wyman and Jean Shrimpton are the only retro features of “Behind The Wall Of Sleep”. “Cigarette” features a prominent accordion, while “In A Lonely Place” uses vibraphone and Suzanne Vega to exude coffeehouse cool. “Hand Of Glory” sounds different, probably because it was written by little-known musician Jimmy Silva. “Alone At Midnight” is a bit of a downer, but it fits the image. (Later CDs added two bonus tracks: the trashy encore “White Castle Blues” and Dick Dale’s “Mr. Eliminator”.)
Especially For You still appeals on several levels, from rock ‘n roll to alternative, and the reason is the songwriting. That it was anachronistic in the ‘80s makes it just as enjoyable today.

The Smithereens Especially For You (1986)—4

1 comment:

  1. Of their original 20th century run, this was the Smithereens album I got to last. I did see the video for “Behind the Wall of Sleep” at the time. I thought the song was great, and it’s still my favorite of theirs. So why I didn’t pick up the album then, I don’t know!

    When I told a friend of mine from New Jersey this, he was quite surprised, since “Blood and Roses” was, evidently, the big airplay hit. That’s one of the heaviest songs they ever did, lyrically and musically. Not that DiNizio lightens up much elsewhere. “Groovy Tuesday” is anything but, when “nothing lasts”. The rest of the album is certainly good listening. “In a Lonely Place” shows a Bacharach influence, something that’s doesn’t seem to be mentioned too often. “Hand of Glory” is great, but something too abstract for Pat to write. The original sounds even more R.E.M.-ish than this cover.

    I don’t think I’d pick this one as their very best, but I can see why people would. It was very promising start.