Smithereens - Especially For You
The Smithereens obtained something of a cult following in the States but sadly did not match that over in the UK. The reputation the band had was established by the off-beat film Nukem High to which the band provided a lot of the music on the film soundtrack. However, there was something about the Smithereens which was unconvincing when it came to comparing them with the music which was critically acclaimed in the UK in the mid-eighties. In retrospect it is possible to see why that should be the case.
The music which had dominated the early eighties mainstream in the UK was that of the new romantics - pretty boys playing happy clappy crappy poppy songs which sold the message of "you too can live the dream". This was epitomised by bands like Duran Duran and Culture Club whose message seemed to be one of enduring optimism in an effort to entice the youth of the day away from the grim reality of the ideologically inspired, politician-led destruction of the basis of British society.
The dominant indie music form was post punk, which carried an often dark and brooding message, miserable and sad. Unlike their nemesis, the New Romantics, they did not seek to shield people from the awful reality of what was going on. As usual, British music had split into two factions - just as it had in the seventies. What has all this got to do with the Smithereens.
Well, one band had managed to cross the divide, the Smiths, mainly because they proved unable to ignore. The Smithereens walked into the mix with a seemingly light powerpop which contained underlying messages of slightly dark and miserable events. Though they sounded nothing like them, the similarity with the Smiths was assumed - they had even adopted a similar name. Yet listening to the album now, something I am prone to do because I still find it one of my favourites, even after all these years, I notice the similarities between the music and so many other influences - the jangle poppers but above all the pop acts of the mid-sixties. Yet the Smithereens were special because they were able to convene such diverse influences into such a heady mix of good honest rock and roll based pop music.
The truth is the Smithereens came from different roots to all of these influences. They came from the same sort of bar-based rock and roll culture which spawned the Del Fuegos (another favourite band of mine from the same era) for instance. This is guitar based pop, catchy and sometimes light, but always with memorable melodies, what I somewhat unintentionally disparagingly call ‘pub rock'. But there was nothing amateur about this. It was tight and well-crafted and full of catchy guitar hooks.
Each side of the original vinyl opened with a great track: "Behind the Wall of Sleep" being a classic example of punk influenced power pop. Some of the other tracks require a bit more listening to and come across as a little insubstantial on first hearing, but there is no doubt they pretty quickly grow on you - try "Blood And Roses" for instance. Still, this remains a great album, one from a band with a split personality who were largely overlooked during their career but had something of a cult following in certain circles.
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