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Gray areas: Smithereens unveil ‘Lost Album’

Entertainment Editor Andy Gray

Voices from beyond the grave — there’s a long tradition of it in the music business, especially with hugely successful acts.

Artists like Jimi Hendrix and Tupac Shakur had more albums released with their name on them after they died than they put out while they were alive. As prolific as Prince was during his lifetime, I think there’s a good chance he’ll end up with more posthumous releases when his heirs finish raiding the archives.

It’s not so common with acts that may be beloved by some, but not the masses.

That’s what make The Smithereens’ “The Lost Album” such a welcome surprise. The albums “Especially for You,” “Green Thoughts” and “11” get regular spins in my house, and lead singer Pat DiNizio has one of my favorite voices (check out his solo version of “Wichita Lineman,” which may be my favorite rendition of that iconic song).

But since his death in 2017, I’d given up on the possibility of hearing him sing something new, especially with his Smithereens’ bandmates — Jim Babjak, lead guitar; Mike Mesaros, bass; and Dennis Diken, drums.

The dozen songs on “The Lost Album,” which will be released digitally and on CD Friday, were recorded by the band in 1993 when it was between record deals. Shockingly, when the group signed with RCA and released “A Date with the Smithereens” in 1994, none of these songs were used.

I don’t know if there’s anything here that will become a Smithereens fan’s new favorite song. But there also is nothing here that will make a fan cringe and think, “That should have stayed hidden in a box in a drawer.”

It’s a record full of catchy riffs and hooks that owe a debt to ’60s influences like The Beatles without feeling stuck in the past. “Out of This World,” “Don’t Look Down” and “Monkey Man” are a few of the standouts.

The songs are described as being “80 percent finished and rough mixed,” but they sound fine in this incarnation. What might have been gained by bringing in past producers Don Dixon or Ed Stasium to give the tracks an extra sheen doesn’t outweigh getting to hear the songs as the band left them and how DiNizio heard them in his lifetime.

As Mesaros says in the press release announcing the album, “At this point, we were really listening to each other and this was key in our individual styles meshing so well. A real band. We could be mean, sweet, joyful or brooding. As need be. We still were in our prime — young, battle-scarred vets who were fluent in the lingua franca of rock ‘n’ roll but still not far removed from Jimmy’s garage and Pat’s basement. (We still aren’t.)”

The Smithereens certainly had its share of success. If you listened to rock and modern rock radio in ’80s, songs like “Only a Memory,” “A Girl Like You” and “Blood and Roses” are instantly recognizable. The band appeared on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Tonight Show.” Its videos got plenty of airplay on MTV, and it was one of the first acts featured on “MTV Unplugged.”

But like other rock / power pop acts, I think The Smithereens unfairly were viewed as a singles band rather than album artists. Those albums from the ’80s and early ’90s are worthy of attention from side one, track one to the to the final tune on side two.

“The Lost Album” is great addition to the band’s catalog.

Andy Gray is the entertainment editor of Ticket. Write to him at agray@tribtoday.com.

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