The Smithereens: The Smithereens Play Tommy

The '80s pride of Hoboken continues its historical take on the British Invasion.

The Smithereens

The Smithereens Play Tommy

Label: Koch
UK Release Date: 2009-05-04
US Release Date: 2009-05-05
Label website
Artist website


This is the question every Smithereens fan—and every fan of The Who—must ask when listening to The Smithereens Play Tommy. It is common knowledge that Tommy is terrific, full of songs worth playing. And it's common knowledge that The Smithereens—a briefly big power-pop outfit from North Jersey that had a small string of hits and fine albums in the 1980s—are a band deeply in love with the British Invasion.

So, we can understand why The Smithereens would want to make a song-for-song re-recording of Tommy. But, critically: Why did they actually do it?

This is not meant as a rhetorical way of saying that it stinks. It doesn't stink. The Smithereens, packing dosed-up guitars that ring with power and full-throated singing, are up to the task of playing Tommy. The band, in short, sounds a whole lot like The Who. This is an accurate, respectful—too respectful—recreation of a classic.

So, again, why?

Let me venture an answer: business.

In 2007, Pat DiNizio (lead vocals and guitar) and his band released Meet the Smithereens, a track-by-track cover of Meet the Beatles. It was followed within a year-plus by B-Sides - the Beatles, a collection of less common tunes by the Fab Four. On the backs of these heartfelt but relatively unadventurous tributes, The Smithereens toured small theaters all over the country, playing their hits, sure, but also playing these ringingly familiar classics to receptive ears. It is ingenious, really, because releasing new albums of original music and hoping that the new music will be received happily by the band's now-middle-aged fans is nearly hopeless. Instead, why not lay legitimate claim to playing both your own music and "your" Beatles tunes?

And, now: Tommy too.

Covering these classic Who tunes, there is too little sense that the songs have been remade in the style of The Smithereens. DiNizio's voice is distinctive, with a downbeat tone that made even the most hopping Smithereens tunes sound doomed. On the Beatles material, his vaguely nasal baritone was often enough to color the covers as distinctive. Here, however, the band recreates Roger Daltrey's lead vocals in Daltrey's tenor range, high and often straining some against the edge. As a result, the vocals become more anonymous when they are more urgent.

"Amazing Journey" is, of course, a great tune. And The Smithereens turn up their amps and rock it with pleasure—but it sound just a heck of a lot like the original. It's not eerie, perhaps, but it's curious. The opening strains of the classic "Pinball Wizard" give you that thrill as always, with the quick-strummed acoustic guitars giving way to an electric lick. The vocals—particularly the stacked harmonies of "Sure plays a mean pinball!"—should feel distinctive and different. But they sound like they come from guys who have listened to Tommy soooo many times that, . . . well, they just can't help but sound like Daltrey, Townsend and Company. And they do.

A few tracks take on a pleasantly Smithereeny sheen. "Acid Queen" is absolutely outstanding, with DiNizio sounding just like himself, glowering a bit as he lays out the verses, remaking the tune not only in the vocals but also in how the arrangement is layered in the brief bridge. And there are flashes in other songs. "Go to the Mirror" has a pleasant Hoboken roll to it, genuinely improved with a little bar-band DNA strapped into its groove. "Tommy Can You Hear Me" is strummed out in harmony over acoustic guitar, and it sounds different than The Who—for its quick minute. "Sensation" is largely mimicry, but "I'm Free" gets a little closer to being a genuine cover as DiNizio intones the song's title without the covering harmony.

For the most part, however, it's hard to imagine listening to The Smithereens Play Tommy more than once without asking yourself, "Well, why don't I just listen to the REAL Tommy? Loyal to the original to a fault, this record does too little to distinguish itself.

It does, however, justify the 'Reens playing some Tommy in their live shows. And you can probably see them, these days, for a song. And you'll get some "All My Lovin'" and "You Can't Do That" thrown in—not to mention "A Girl Like You" and "In a Lonely Place".

The call is simple: saver yer money now, put on a leather jacket when the 'Reens come to town and remember that those E Street guys are not the only great Jersey band to have a hit during the '80s. See them, hear them, touch them. That's why they made the record anyway.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.