The Smithereens

Blown To Smithereens: Best Of The Smithereens (Capitol ‘95) Rating: A-
The Smithereens have made a pretty solid living for themselves despite being largely unspectacular. Their songs are somewhat simplistic and lack variety, the singer has a so-so voice with minimal range, and none of the players are virtuosos, yet somehow everything works. Maybe it’s just band chemistry, but their simplicity is their charm, and The Smithereens don’t pretend to be anything other than a basic rock n’ roll band. Their sound is a throwback to the jangly guitar pop of the '60s, and Blown To Smithereens: Best Of The Smithereens provides an ideal introduction to the accomplished songwriting of group leader Pat DiNizio. The band did a good job of putting their best and brightest on this release, beginning with "Beauty and Sadness," one of many songs here that provides what its title implies. “Strangers When We Meet” is more up tempo and is equally charming, while “Blood And Roses” (which reminds me of R.E.M.'s "Fall On Me," which is fitting since they were my introductions to both bands and were both minor hits at around the same time) shows a moodier side to the band. “In A Lonely Place” is a gorgeous duet with Suzanne Vega, while “Behind The Wall Of Sleep" shows that The Smithereens could rock hard, with a memorably poetic DiNizio lyric adding to the experience as well. “Only A Memory” and “House We Used To Live In” (the former being typically morose, the latter featuring a driving melody and autobiographical lyrics about his parents losing their house) are also very good (but not quite great) mid-tempo rockers, while the quality continues with "Drown In My Own Tears," which again showcases DiNizio's catchy songwriting and knack for images that stick. The hard rocking “A Girl Like You” was another minor hit and is one of many tracks here that sounds like a long lost '60s song (albeit with a heavier guitar crunch than most '60s bands), but the band mixes it up a bit towards the end with a couple of very poppy entries ("Yesterday Girl," "Top Of The Pops") and even a lightly singable soul attempt ("Too Much Passion"). Most of the time, however, the band doesn't stray too far from what they do best; "Miles From Nowhere" also boasts their trademark guitar jangle, while a cover of The Outsiders' "Time Won't Let Me" (originally appearing on the Timecop soundtrack) fittingly closes out this classy, chronologically sequenced compilation. Of course, this album isn't without its limitations, as the band's scope was so narrow that many of these songs start to sound the same after awhile. Still, The Smithereens have always been a very good singles band, and this collection captures the essence of their rudimentary rock n’ roll charm. Truth is, rock n' roll needs good second tier bands like The Smithereens; though they never made it really big like some expected they would, I'd much rather see them live at a reasonable price (which I did in the mid-'90s) than pay through the nose to watch some "superstar" act perform "live" in some stadium.

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