The Smithereens Play Tommy review by The Smithereens

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  • Released: May 5, 2009
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 10
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8.7 Superb
  • Users' score: 5.7 (6 votes)
The Smithereens: The Smithereens Play Tommy

Sound — 8
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.

Lyrics — 10
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.

Overall Impression — 8
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.

9 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Really useless. There is absolutely no purpose to this whatsoever; a load of covers of a concept album - and they didn't even go through the effort of (god forbid) covering all the songs on it. What next? The Smithereens play Nirvana? The Smithereens play The Kinks? The Smithereens actually do something that requires some effort?
    It's one thing for a vocalist to 'stay true' to the original. But if a whole band or a whole record sounds very much like the original it was based off, how is the cover album not a waste of effort? What they should have done, to make the album worth buying, is make themselves sound different, rather than just a less-proficient version of The Who. 'Ramones Play Tommy' would have been a hell of a lot more interesting.
    Instead of calling this useless why not understand that they didn't put the album out to be "useful" to some pretentious prick, they put it out to pay homage to a great band that influenced their playing. and by the way putting nirvana and the who in the same league as a pretty big insult to a band thats influenced 5 decades of music...
    Some pretentious prick? Oh, I'm hurt. I'll put it differently then: it's cheap, it's easy, it requires zero skill as they haven't interpreted it in any way whatsoever. It's no better than all those cheap tribute CDs they put on Itunes when the real artist won't let their songs be put on there. It's basically as if someone painted a picture and I sat down and copied it, however perfectly. It's a copy at the end of the day.
    hurricane #1
    the smithereens are one of the best band of all time and pat is a genius. whatever they decide to do putting out album wise is fine cuz they've given us plenty of amazing stuff over the years if they feel like putting out meet the smithereens and tommy **** you they have the right.
    it just gets kind of tiring dealing with people on these forums and everywhere in the music world who bash someone for expressing themselves and doing what they want to do, cause that's what music is about, doing what the musician wants to do. i play covers of songs because i want so, not because it's useful to someone else or because i think people want to hear it. at least the smithereens arent doing this because of label or cultural pressure.
    Michael Connor
    Webbtje got me thinking with his "useless" remark. I went to Catholic High School and we were taught that unless sex was done with the intention to procreate, then it was a sin. Sex could not be useless. It had to have a purpose. To follow that sort of thinking, one might argue that playing music or creating music purely for pleasure must be "useless' - by God, it might even be sinful. I just got the new Tommy Played (oops, that's a scary word -"played") by the Smithereens. and I'm really looking forward to spending a very "useless" forty or so minutes listening to it. I really enjoyed the two Beatles tributes they did. I especially liked Dennis Diken's wonderful emulation of Ringo. I've been a Beatles' fan since the summer of 1963 when my older brother and sister returned from a summer visit to England with Please Please Me LP under their arms. Iwas immediately in love with the thrillingly energetic sound - much of it thanks to Ringo's superb playing on drums. Six years later the Who came out with Tommy and I again was thrilled by great rock drumming. I know that Dennis Diken will do Moonie proud on this CD. ("Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I have listened to some really useless music and really enjoyed myself:")