Sound: The Smithereens have entered sacred territory before (at least musically speaking) when they released 2 full-length albums dedicated to Beatles' covers. The releases Meet The Smithereens! and B-Sides the Smithereens took stabs at a variety of classics from John, Paul, George, and Ringo, but they didn't ruffle too many feathers in the process. That was primarily because the band remained true to the original songs, never veering too far from the arrangements so familiar to Beatles' fans everywhere. The Smithereens have decided to once to touch the untouchable by performing selected songs from The Who's Tommy. The new album, aptly titled The Smithereens Play Tommy, is meant to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Who's famous rock opera, and in many cases remains eerily close to the original recording.
If ever there was a question that The Smithereens had a love and adoration for British pop, their newest CD should clear it all up. Frontman Pat DiNizio has summed up the bold Tommy experiment with the succinct statement, This is punk rock opera meets the godfathers of pop. Plain and simple. There really isn't any need to overanalyze DiNizio's words because his band, fairly straightforward in its approach to rock, doesn't ever attempt to morph Townshend's epic work into something it was never intended to be. Instead, the 13-track release is a modest, but tight-sounding homage to The Who.
The CD begins with Overture/It's A Boy, and although The Smithereens don't go all-out by adding in the full organ or horn instrumentation, the sound is amazingly faithful to the original. In every track, you do hear a striking similarity between Pete Townshend's and DiNizio's vocal styles, which gives the effect at times that you're just listening to a remastered version. The songs Sparks, Christmas, Tommy Can You Hear Me, and I'm Free are all very true to what you're used to hearing, and it's a credit to The Smithereens that they can pull that off with Keith Moon-style drumming and all.
It should be noted that there are no disasters on The Smithereens Play Tommy and each track is a valiant effort. Sure, songs like Acid Queen and Eyesight to the Blind pale in comparison to the larger-than-life performances from Tina Turner and Eric Clapton, respectively. Pinball Wizard does recreate the wall of sound heard on the original and is a respectful version all in all, but one shouldn't expect the charisma of Roger Daltrey (or Elton John, for that matter) to be mimicked by DiNizio. // 8
Lyrics: The lyrics are an integral part of moving the story of Tommy along, and those haven't been altered in any way. You won't get the full 20 songs from the original movie soundtrack, but the 13 tracks that The Smithereens selected are still key moments in the production. Even with a few tracks missing, the story of a blind, deaf, and dumb boy evolving into something extraordinary is still amazing to hear 40 years after it originally was introduced. // 10
Overall Impression: There certainly was some skepticism when The Smithereens Play Tommy was first played in full. Certain bands you have to be very, very careful covering, and The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Who are a few held in a high regard. That hasn't daunted The Smithereens, however, as they checked The Beatles off of their cover album list in the past few years. Now with the 20th anniversary celebration of Tommy, The Smithereens' CD don't mess much with the formula. You won't find quite as many intricacies as you would on the original (orchestral instrumentation and quite a few trippy effects aren't present), but the core is still there. The new album shouldn't raise that many eyebrows for good or bad reasons, but it's still an admirable effort on The Smithereens' part. // 8