God Save The Smithereens
Velvel / Koch Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/29/1999
God Save The Smithereens is an album that almost never happened. The band had been dropped by RCA after one disappointing album, A Date With The Smithereens. The band seemed to be in a major holding pattern. Bassist Mike Mesaros had even left the band at one point. Personal lives got in the way; lead singer/guitarist Pat DiNizio went through a divorce, the results of which would be heard in the songs on this album. And then, when this album was set to be released, their record label hit the skids. (Apparently, Koch bought up a lot of what used to be Velvel.)
In one sense, I rally didn't want to see the saga of the Smithereens end on the note of A Date With The Smithereens, an album that I knew could have been much better. So, it could be said that DiNizio and crew had little to lose and a lot to gain by bringing out a new album. And while God Save The Smithereens indicates a step in the right direction again for the group, it's not a perfect album.
The first thing that strikes me about the feel of God Save The Smithereens is it feels like I'm listening to one of their earlier works like Especially For You. There isn't the kind of polish that you would have heard on their masterpiece 11 -- and I think that was done on purpose, as if the band wanted to build back up to that level with hard work.
But unlike their earlier albums which were happy-go-lucky in their own quirky ways, God Save The Smithereens is often a brooding album that dares to suggest that our heroes, indeed, are growing up along with their audience. Behind the soaring vocal harmonies that have always been this band's trademark, there are signs of heartbreak and pain.
I don't know DiNizio on a personal level -- the one time I met him, he shook my hand and said, "I know you from somewhere" -- but I think it's safe to say that he used this album to work through the pain of his divorce and the harsh reality of starting over again in life. Songs like "Even If I Never Get Back Home" and "Try" hit the listener like open wounds that still smart. It's not something that one might expect from the group - but then again, who would have expected a song like "Gotti" one album before?
The band is still desparately jonesing for another hit single on the lines of "A Girl Like You", and on God Save The Smithereens, they have a few offerings that come close to that mark. The album's opening track, "She's Got A Way," has the magic that the band has been looking for. The rhythm section of guitarist Jim Babjak, Mesaros and drummer Dennis Diken work a groove that is enough to wake the dead, while DiNizio lays down a powerful vocal. Likewise, "House At The End Of The Road," a duet with Carrie Akre from Goodness, brings back memories of the band's work with Belinda Carlisle on "Blue Period" and is a real charmer.
But in the end, God Save The Smithereens sinks under its own melancholia. Tracks like "Everything Changes," "The Long Loneliness" and "Gloomy Sunday" are okay tracks, but after a while, it almost becomes akin to listening to a soap opera. I'm not saying that the Smithereens should always be a happy-go-lucky band, but balancing the dark of life with the light a little more often wouldn't have hurt things.
All of this said, it's still a better album than A Date With The Smithereens -- at least from my recollections of the album, anyway -- and represents a band that is willing to get back down to work and crank out tracks on their own terms. They're not quite back in the spotlight as they once were, but at least they have put out an album that brings them closer to it.