The drummer looks back in fondness while forging ahead
In 1993, The Smithereens had what you would call a good problem.
In between the end of their contract with Capitol Records and the beginning of their deal with RCA, they had kept their noses to the grindstone. “We actually cut two albums worth of material,” says drummer Dennis Diken.” Half of that material appeared on their first RCA LP, 1994’s A Date with The Smithereens. But the band wasn’t out to make a double album, so they had to put the rest of the songs aside.
“We knew we had these in the can,” remembers Diken, “but for whatever reason, we kept moving forward with subsequent LPs and I guess we figured we’d do something with these at some point.”
And at long last, they have.
The aptly titled The Lost Album finally brings those MIA sessions from the spring of ‘93 aboveground after nearly three decades. There was no good reason for the songs to stay hidden—the album stands up shoulder to shoulder with The Smithereens’ other ‘90s recordings.
“We thought these were fairly well realized,” agrees Diken, “but the tape just stayed in the vault. We started going through our archives and this batch of tunes seemed to be the most coherent in terms of hanging together.”
Of course, the sad side of the story is that opening up the archives is the only way we’ll get previously unheard material from The Smithereens’ main songwriter, founding frontman Pat DiNizio, who passed away in 2017.
“There certainly is a sense of bittersweetness listening to them now,” Diken says of the Lost Album songs. “Even though it’s just a few months before we did A Date With the Smithereens, this batch of recordings seems to represent the last examples of what we were calling Pat’s ‘younger voice.’ There’s a certain quality to it on The Lost Album and the recordings that preceded it. His voice reached a different level of maturity afterwards. It was the end of an era, it just seemed like it closed the lid on a certain chapter in the band’s career or the band’s sound.”
The Smithereens’ current chapter has found them hitting the road in recent times with fellow power-pop heroes Marshall Crenshaw and Gin Blossoms singer Robin Wilson alternating appearances as guest lead vocalist, bringing a slightly different touch to DiNizio’s tunes. And they’ve already started performing Lost Album tracks like “Out of This World” and “Don’t Look Down.”
The former feels like it could have come off of 1991’s Blow Up with its combination of pure pop hooks and alt-rock guitar grit, while the latter—a song about soldiering ahead through hard times, bears the blend of melancholy and forward momentum that’s at the heart of some of the best Smithereens songs.
AUDIO: The Smithereens “A World Apart”
“A World Apart” is a piece of power-pop perfection, offering further proof of DiNizio’s ability to churn out a seemingly endless stream of timeless hooks. And the sun-dappled melody of “Pretty Little Lies” conjures visions of the original power-popper, Buddy Holly, whose influence was crucial to DiNizio’s songwriting style. Diken gives this one a light enough touch to put it in the neighborhood of tender Holly tunes like “Everyday.”
“Monkey Man” and the tongue-in-cheek “I’m Sexy” (the latter written by guitarist Jim Babjak) show the band’s rockier side. And the aggressive riffs of “Stop Bringing Me Down” offer a hint of the guitar attack they band would employ on A Date with the Smithereens.
“It sits comfortably between Blow Up and A Date in the sonic sense” says Diken of The Lost Album. “It’s interesting to listen back to how you played. I thought I played pretty good on that album, but would I have done some things differently? Although we have definitely grown as musicians, if I listen to a recording of myself from 40 years ago, I can still tell it’s me.”
The Lost Album captures The Smithereens in transition but it feels like it fits right into their chronology. “These are all born and bred out of a certain period of time,” says Diken, “I guess they do serve as a bit of a time capsule of that year.”
Barring any additional spelunking in the archives, this release also represents our last chance to hear a fresh batch of DiNizio tunes. It’s a welcome addition to the band’s legacy, but there still may be more Smithereens records in the future—Babjak has said that he’s working on new tunes co-written with both Wilson and Crenshaw.
Part of the band’s appeal has always been the unshakable impression that for all their talent, they’re still just a bunch of music geeks like their fans, eager to obsess over the records that inspire them. You can hear it when their influences come through in their songs, and it’s been confirmed countless times in interviews. So, while we’re on the topic of lost albums, what’s a favorite of Diken’s that comes under that category?
“Home and Away by Del Shannon,” he offers enthusiastically, citing Shannon’s long-shelved 1967 sessions. “The Andrew Loog Oldham-produced record. It’s just a fabulous album and Del’s one of my all-time favorites. Some cuts of that leaked through the years but in total it didn’t come out until late ‘80s or in the ‘90s.”
Don’t be surprised if sometime in the future some rabid Smithereens fan is heard rhapsodizing about The Lost Album with the same sort of fervor.
- It Takes a Village: Richard Barone on Writing Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the 1960s - November 14, 2022
- Dennis Diken on The Smithereens’ Lost Album - November 2, 2022
- The Meaning of Love: Depeche Mode’s A Broken Frame at 40 - September 28, 2022