Friday, September 4, 2015

Smithereens 3: 11

The cover suggests a nod to the film Ocean’s Eleven (the Rat Pack one, years before the 21st century reboot) while most rock fans would take the title as a Spinal Tap reference. With 11, the Smithereens were able to keep up their track record three albums running.
As ever, it’s all about riffs, volume and melody, so “A Girl Like You” and “Blues Before And After” are pinned to muscular hooks. “Blue Period” sports a chamber pop string quartet, a harpsichord solo influenced by “In My Life” and—wait for it—Belinda Carlisle on harmonies. But good as they are, “Baby Be Good” and “Room Without A View” already sound like other Smithereens songs—“Listen To Me Girl” and “House We Used To Live In” respectively—a trend that becomes more apparent for the duration of the album.
“Yesterday Girl” is pretty snappy, even if it does share several elements with the Beach Boys’ “Girl Don’t Tell Me”, which they already covered on their first EP. “Cut Flowers” is the only song on the album with a co-writing credit, and perhaps Jim Babjak’s input is what helps make the song so good. Some would suggest it’s the backing vocals by the Honeys, a group better known as Brian Wilson’s ex-wife, ex-sister-in-law and ex-cousin-in-law. Speaking of which, the name “William Wilson” is a cross between the California auteur and an Edgar Allen Poe protagonist, and it’s a pretty busy song for such an obscure narrative. Keeping with the retro references, “Maria Elena” was also the name of Buddy Holly’s wife, and while it references a few song titles, the catchiness is more Pat DiNizio than Holly. Despite the Beatles ‘65-style intro, “Kiss Your Tears Away” is a midtempo lullaby with a prominent Coral sitar.
There’s a lot to like on 11, but it’s not as strong as the first two, and not just because those had all the good ideas. Consumers thought differently, and bought enough copies of the album to keep the band on the road for another year.

The Smithereens 11 (1989)—3

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I think this is the weakest of the first four albums. One reason is that the album doesn’t sound as good. The guitars on the first half the album just sound like ordinary crunch. I do agree that the songwriting takes a dip, as well. “Blues Before and After” could have been written by anyone. “Baby Be Good” is the first Smithereens song that could be described as a filler track, much as “Hold Me Tight” is such on “Meet the Beatles”. “Cut Flowers” is good, but the lower key mix on their “Anthology” album is better, with the Honeys’ vocals made more prominent. The other songs are good and catchy, but the only one that I find outstanding is “William Wilson”, which has the most interesting melody and indirect lyrics that are atypical for Pat.

    By the way, I don’t care about another 60’s reference – their third album should NOT have been called “11”. That’s just wrong!

    I just found out that one of my fraternity brothers was in the same high school class as Pat! But they didn’t know each other. There were almost 600 kids in that class.