Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Smithereens

How do bands like this slip through the cracks so often? This band is so incredibly underrated, it simply makes no sense. In terms of songwriting and musicianship, The Smithereens have very few peers, yet a cult band they have always been and remain to this day, when by all rights they should be superstars. A rock band from Carteret, New Jersey, guitarist Jim Babjak, bassist Mike Mesaros, drummer Dennis Diken and vocalist/guitarist Pat DiNizio got together in 1980 armed with a sound and style that took all the best qualities of sixties-era British Invasion and American roots rock and roll and power pop and modernized the lot into an irresistable hard rock sound owed to the fiendishly clever writing and vocal delivery of frontman DiNizio. Add  Babjak's brilliant Rickenbacker-fueled guitar work and the bricks-and -mortar rhythm section of Mesaros and Diken and you have a sonic juggernaut that puts many better-known acts to shame.

While never acheiving the rarified heights of fame they deserved, The Smithereens maintained a loyal cult following. They also found appreciation and respect from other more celebrated rockers such as the Kinks and Graham Parker with whom they collaborated onstage, and Suzanne Vega and The Go Gos singer Belinda Carlisle whom they worked in the studio, as in the case of  "Blue Period" from their third album, 11.

The band were always up front and proud of their influences, of which owed much to the likes of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, while at the same time channeling the spirit of 60s-era Mod acts, notably The Who, John's Children and The Move. Added to this was their Marshall amp-driven wall of sound that had distinctly heavy metal overtones. All of these are prominently on display with a song that was their highest-charting effort at  #38 on the Billboard charts, "A Girl Like You".

The band is still actively touring and has held the same line-up until 2006, when bassist Mike Mesaros left the band to be replaced by Servero Jornacion. Anyone who is a fan of all things rockin' could do much worse than to explore their back catalog and more importantly, catch them live. This is a truly worthy rock band.

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