By John Borack
“Smithereens 2011” is the first album of all-new material from New Jersey’s pop-rock craftsmen since 1999’s “God Save the Smithereens,” and the 13-track disc proves that the wait has definitely been worth it.
Although albums filled with Beatles covers, a song-by-song re-creation of The Who’s “Tommy” and a live album have served as decent enough aural placeholders for the quartet, “2011” is a most-welcome and long-overdue arrival. The disc is a refreshing, wholly satisfying blast of classic Smithereens songcraft and melodicism, colored with Pat DiNizio’s impassioned vocals, Jim Babjak’s thick-toned, stinging guitar, Dennis Diken’s imaginative, powerful drum work and Severo “The Thrilla” Jornacion’s stylish bass. (Jornacion replaced original bassist Mike Mesaros approximately five years ago.)
The band reunited with ace producer Don Dixon (who produced the band’s first two full-length releases) for “2011,” and the entire collection sounds like a return to The Smithereens’ mid-to-late ’80s glory years, both song and performance-wise. It’s a back-to-the-basics approach, with the guitars and vocals up front, spacious and crisp production and durable, compact tunes that leave a lasting impact.
Among the nuggets to be found on “2011” are “Sorry,” an insistent rocker in the grand tradition of Smithereens classics such as “A Girl Like You” and “Only a Memory;” the lyrically sweet, poppy “One Look at You,” which borrows a bit of the “Day Tripper” guitar riff; the dreamy-yet-driving “A World of Our Own,” which features some outstanding guitar interplay; and a whole slew of like-minded, powerful pop tunes, with Babjak and Diken’s instrumental prowess taking center stage.
Once the proceedings wrap up with the early Who-like blast of “What Went Wrong” (Diken’s drumming is particularly noteworthy here), the immediate thought is that this is the finest Smithereens record since 1989’s “11,” and very nearly as good as the band’s debut, “Especially For You.” Throughout “2011,” the Smithereens fight the good fight, convincing the listener that real rock and roll will never truly go out of fashion while also proving that while these old dogs might be showing off old tricks, said tricks are still mighty fine.