Monday, April 19, 2010

The Smithereens pay tribute to The Who's 'Tommy' in excellent fashion

Last year, The Smithereens released its version of The Who's Tommy. Even novice rock and roll fans know the plot of the rock opera. It follows the journey of a deaf, dumb, and blind kid (Tommy) through his breakthrough as a pinball wizard and the regaining of his sight and hearing. He then becomes a messiah to his followers who eventually reject him when he takes them on a path they do not want to follow.

The Smithereens' performance crackles with fire, but they did make changes compared to The Who's original. In their version, the storyline has been streamlined. The Who's Pete Townshend was the primary writer of Tommy though others contributed material. The Smithereens basically stick to only Townshend's songs and toss out most of the other contributions. Most notably, Who bassist John Entwistle's songs ('Fiddle About' and 'Cousin Kevin') are gone. Additionally, a few of Townshend's songs have been removed. These include the lengthy instrumental 'Underture,' as well as 'You Didn't Hear It.'

Of the songs left out, 'You Didn't Hear It' is the most problematic. The song contains the events that led to Tommy becoming deaf, dumb, and blind. However, in The Who's original, this event took place in such a subtle way that the listener would have to closely listen to detect what happened. In other words, this is not that big a deal.

The Smithereens' drummer Dennis Diken deserves special mention for his performance. He faced the unenviable task of having to reproduce the work of Keith Moon. Moon did not write or sing songs for The Who, but his drumming was the key to the band's sound. He pushed the band forward in ways not possible without him. If anybody reading this does not agree, go listen to the two Who albums released soon after his death (Face Dances and It's Hard). On those two, The Who sounds like a different band (and not for the better).

The Smithereens and singer Pat Dinizio have done good work in the past covering other people's material. Dinizio's album dedicated to Buddy Holly's work is especially good. Anybody who enjoyed that will like this album as well.

Special thanks to Joltin' Django for turning me on to this record.

No comments: