Sure, it's the group's first disc of original material in 12 years, but they've never stopped touring nor releasing records. It's just that the records they've been releasing have been, uh, shall we say, "different"? Here's a rundown: a Christmas album (okay), a live album (not that unusual), a note-for-note replication of The Beatles' American debut album (huh?), another album of Beatles covers (why?), and a truncated version of The Who's Tommy (WTF?!).
For all intents and purposes, it appeared The Smithereens -- while still rock solid as live performers -- had seriously lost their way musically.
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With its title and cover graphics giving a not-so-subtle nod to the 11 album from their heyday in the late 1980s, 2011 sounds just like The Smithereens did in their prime. Their muscular power pop full of great guitar hooks and melodic choruses was timeless then and it still sounds timeless today. Singer/songwriter Pat DiNizio's solid baritone and melancholy moods masked his sometimes simplistic lyrics and grade school rhyme couplets then and still do so today.
For 2011, The Smithereens returned to the same East Village rehearsal studio they used to haunt and reunited with producer Don Dixon, who had successfully manned the boards on their breakthrough '80s albums Especially For You and Green Thoughts. Those records contain many of the group's most recognizable songs: "Blood and Roses," "Behind the Wall of Sleep," "Only A Memory" and "House We Used To Live In" among them.
While 2011 may not produce any radio hits like those tunes mentioned above, its songs and production values are no less than their equals.
So call the new album "a return to form," if you must, and in some ways it certainly is. Mainly, it's great just to hear The Smithereens rocking through their own new material again and, hopefully, it won't be another 12 year wait until the next time we can do so.