Saturday, January 13, 2007

From Beatles to Smithereens

The Smithereens for about a decade or so, their first couple of albums (in particular, Green Thoughts and Especially For You) were in heavy rotation during my college years of the late '80s. And I've gotta say I'm intrigued to hear their new album coming out this week -- Meet the Smithereens -- which is a song-for-song remake of the first US Beatles release, Meet the Beatles.



The NYTimes has some more on the album from classical music reviewer Allan Kozinn, who separates this album from the typical tribute band effort:
What makes “Meet the Smithereens” unusual is the degree to which, like a good classical performance, it balances fidelity to the original with a projection of the interpreter’s style. Typically, Beatles covers and pop covers in general are an interpreter’s art and emphasize the performer’s vision.

[...]

when a string quartet plays Haydn, it doesn’t set out to produce an unvaried copy of what’s in the score. The players make interpretive decisions about tempos, balances and tone color; ideally, a quartet’s reading will breathe differently from night to night, and will be distinct from a competing ensemble’s account. And except for the occasional misconceived children’s concert, quartets don’t don Haydn-era wigs and costumes, or adopt Austrian accents.

This is what I like about “Meet the Smithereens!”: it bridges the extremes of note-for-note fidelity and pure interpretation, offering the best of both worlds. The band has treated “Meet the Beatles!” as a symphony, a complete cultural artifact, to be heard intact. It barely matters that “Meet the Beatles!” was not quite the album the Beatles intended, but rather a compilation made by Capitol Records, using 9 of the 14 songs from the group’s British album “With the Beatles,” as well as three songs released as singles. For American listeners who discovered the Beatles at the time, as the Smithereens did, “Meet” has an emotional resonance that “With” does not.

The arrangements on “Meet the Smithereens!” have all the vibrant energy and directness of the originals, and even minor details like the keyboard glissandos in “Little Child” and the overdubbed handclaps on “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There” are faithfully preserved.

Yet you wouldn’t mistake it for the Beatles, as you might with a tribute band. Pat DiNizio’s vocals have the dark, slightly flattened quality you hear on signature Smithereens songs like “Blood and Roses” or “A Girl Like You,” and if his guitar solos follow the contours of George Harrison’s, they aren’t slavishly identical.

Where the Beatles moved to acoustic guitars for “Till There Was You” — the only cover on “Meet the Beatles!” — the Smithereens opted to keep it electric, with a touch of distortion, and to abandon the saccharine quality that Paul McCartney brought to the vocal.

So here's a blast from the past with their classic Behind the Wall of Sleep:


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