Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Smithereens -- "A Girl Like You" (1989)

After new wave succumbed to corporate rock, there were still a number of breaking bands who were determined not to succumb to shareholder mainstreaming or the wild excesses of hair metal.

The radio dug The Smithereeens right out of the box with two singles, "Blood and Roses" and "Behind the Wall Of Sleep," minor key crunchers that introduced the world to songwriter Pat DiNizio (the latter name checking, of all people, swinging 60's English model Jean Shrimpton). While clearly a huge fan of the Beatles and garage rock, DiNizio's lyrics were always full of pain, anxiety and difficulties with the opposite sex.

Capitol snapped them up and big things were expected of them, miraculously, because they certainly didn't fit in with any of the slick acts of the time. Some classify them as power pop, but I just don't hear it.

Four working class rock musicians from New Jersey, bar band veterans. In a way, they were the great rock hope in 1989.

Their second Capitol album, Green Thoughts, was more bummed-out rock, spewing out one great single, "Only A Memory," but not taking them any further artistically.

11 changed the picture -- they brought in New York rock producer/engineer Ed Stasium, known for his work on all the early Ramones and Talking Heads album. He cleared up the Smithereen's sound, deepened the production to show off the band's chops and seemingly got DiNizio to lighten up for a song or two.

"A Girl Like You" is about as good an album opener as you can ask for, and undoubtedly the band's best song. A showcase for recording double-tracked electric guitars, the song has one of the most head-shaking, catchiest, moving in multiple direction riffs in the genre. When Denny Diken's drums pound in hard after a few bars, you feel surrounded by the band. Diken plays around with the different upbeats of that riff, slamming the cymbals and kick at the same time on the unexpected offbeats.

Yes, there's plenty of DiNizio anxiety, as he always seems to build women up with great worship and then get let down by them, sending him into some dark bummerland.

I used to travel in the shadows
And I never found the nerve to try and walk up to you
But now I am a man and I know that there's no time to waste
There's too much to lose
Girl you say anything at all, and you know that you can call
And I'll be right there for you
First love, heartbreak, tough luck, big mistake
What else can you do

I'll say anything you want to hear
I'll see everything through
I'll do anything I have to do
Just to win the love of a girl like you, a girl like you

People talk and people stare, tell them I don't really care
This is the place I should be
And if they think it's really straange for a girl like you
To be in love with someone like me
I wanna tell them all to go to hell
That we're doing very well without them you see
That's just the way it is and they will see
I am yours and you are mine the way it should be

Now if I seem a little wild, there's no holding back
I'm trying to get a message to you
I won't take anything from anyone
I won't walk and I won't run, I believe in you
London, Washington, anywhere you are I'll run
Together we'll be
Inside, outside, got my pride
I won't let him take you from me.

Stasium mixes in a piano chopping chords down on the 8ths, and yes, there's even the Go-Go's Belinda Carlisle joining in on some of the verses. Yes, this is a song that is meant to be played loud.

While they had a handful of mixed results albums that followed, the last three Smithereens albums over the past few years have been enjoyable cover albums of early Beatles singles and The Who's Tommy. I'm sure the Smithereens can play these songs superbly with their eyes closed, as they probably were doing it as teenagers years ago. Also worth checking out: their gritty cover of The Outsiders' "Time Won't Let Me" on their Blown To Smithereens greatest hits album (see video below with Jean Claude Van Damme).

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