The Smithereens

2011

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2011 is the sixth album the Smithereens have released since 2007, but it's the first in a while that hasn't seemed like the product of a band just making busy work. After two albums of Beatles covers, one devoted to an edited version of the Who's Tommy, a Christmas album, and a live disc, 2011 finds the Smithereens finally recording a full set of new and original material for the first time since 1999's God Save the Smithereens, and it represents a return to form in more ways than one. Don Dixon, who produced the group's two best albums, 1986's Especially for You and 1988's Green Thoughts, returned to the producer's chair for these sessions (with fellow Southern pop icon Mitch Easter engineering), and the sound of the album recalls the dramatic guitar-powered pop of the Smithereens' glory days, with Jim Babjak's guitar sounding as fierce and powerful as ever, while vocalist Pat DiNizio's deep, moody vocals are better matched to these new songs than the covers he's been devoting himself to over the past few years. Drummer Dennis Diken and bassist Severo Jornacion are a tight, emphatic, and imaginative rhythm section here, and while Dixon knows how make the most of this band's abilities in the studio with judicious keyboard overdubs and harmonies adding texture to the melodies, it's the songs that really make the difference here. Most of the songs on 2011 don't come off as classics like "Only a Memory" or "Blood and Roses," but for a group that hasn't come up with any new tunes for over a decade, this album confirms that the bandmembers haven't forgotten how to come up with a song that's hooky and atmospheric at the same time, and "Viennese Hangover," "What Went Wrong," and "Goodnight Goodbye" rank with the best stuff the Smithereens have released since their glory days in the 1980s. Some might suggest 2011 is simply the work of a band trying to re-create the sound of its first major success, but it's more accurate to say this album reaffirms the Smithereens' core strengths; here they're doing what they do best (and haven't done in a while), making this a welcome return to form for anyone who appreciated their muscular approach to pop.

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