I first became aware of The Smithereens in the mid 1980s when they played live on a UK ‘alternative entertainment TV show’. I’m guessing it was probably Saturday Live, but if not, it was certainly a variety format because I remember one of the comedians cracking a rather cheap, desperate and poorly-executed joke about the lead singer’s comb-over.
Anyway, I quite liked the band, but didn’t really think much more about them until they struck up a prominent association with guitar manufacturer Rickenbacker for their 1988 album Green Thoughts. I’d just bought a Rickenbacker 330 guitar at the time, and the association prompted me to revisit the music of The Smithereens.
Green Thoughts was actually a very good album, and I absolutely loved the guitar sounds. The songwriting ranges from impressive to a bit cheesy, but it’s all undeniably pleasant listening, and in its day it was a refereshing change from the constant diet of Stock Aitken and Waterman four-on-the-floor conveyer-belt hits. It’s rock, but it’s not metal and it’s not punk. In fact, I think one of the reasons The Smithereens didn’t really catch on here in the UK is that they didn’t try to milk the trends. I’m sure they could very easily have slotted themselves into several different fads over the years, but they didn’t take that route.
In terms of what this album sounds like, I suppose REM would be a difficult band not to mention. There’s quite a similarity in the general feel. But this music is more rooted in the 1960s, with an emphasis on the catchy rather than the cool. The song Spellbound is a very interesting exception, though. If The Smithereens hadn’t been listening to Siouxsie & The Banshees when they came up with that, they were obviously getting some sort of telepathic messaging.
It’s noticeable from the pink identifier on the edge of the cassette case that the tape has a CrO2 formulation. The purple-black colour of the tape and its ‘wax crayon’ smell confirm that this is indeed the case. As is also evident, there’s a nice lime-green leader at the ends of the tape too. The cassette is made in Holland, and is on the Enigma label. Good production, good songs – a perfect demonstration of the way analogue sound reproduction should be done.