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The Song Remains the Same

The Smithereens don't have a hot new angle, only solid old sounds

It's a sound that borrowed from others, but it's a sound that's loaned to others as well, and DiNizio's been around too long to be overly modest about The Smithereens' quiet influence on a generation of American bands such as Nirvana, the Gin Blossoms and Candlebox. Suggest, now that the greatest hits package has been done, that a Smithereens tribute album might loom in the future, and DiNizio admits that "apparently we've been an influence on a lot of bands," and that the tribute album's "not a half-bad idea, or a half-baked idea, either."

But if that line of thinking comes across as a bit self-serving, DiNizio's exceptionally frank in assessing the band's present status.

"Right now, we're certainly not as popular as we used to be, and when I tell you honestly that we're not as popular as we used to be, or I give you my honest age [it's 39], it's because I've been there and I've been back a few times," he says. "But we're still here, and I think what we do musically... the [forthcoming in January] new album and the new material is as relevant as it ever was, at least to my ears. I think we're pretty much in the place that we were during the first five years of our existence, during the first five years that it took us to get a record deal -- our music is a bit out of time."

The trends, of course, come and go, and there's a better than good chance that songwriting as fine as that of The Smithereens will enjoy a few more cycles of salad days before the planet spins out into space, but the band's last, greatest hit, "Too Much Passion," isn't the model DiNizio would choose for any Smithereens re-emergence.

"It was a huge hit for us, strangely enough," he says. "That was a sort of one-off homage and tribute to the songwriting style of Smokey Robinson and the sound of those Motown records we grew up really loving. We never recorded anything else remotely like it, and I think because it was a sweet soul ballad that we got a bad rep with people who thought we had sold out. We lost a large part of our audience at that point, because it didn't sound like "Girl Like You" or "Blood and Roses" or any of the other heavier, moodier tracks that we're known for. Blow Up, in fact, was a blatantly clean and optimistic sounding pop record. It was in direct contrast to its three predecessors, which were moodier and dirtier. It sounded totally different, but I thought it was a fine album. I'm still proud of that record, and I'll stand by it."

So maybe The Smithereens' longevity -- the unlikely ability of four bandmates to stay sane and stable and vital over the course of 15 uninterrupted years, and the freedom that non-meteoric pace allows -- is the real angle to our Smithereens profile. We're living, as DiNizio points out, "in the era of the disposable rock star. It seems as if you're first album doesn't go gold or platinum, forget it, you're not accorded the second shot." How, in that atmosphere, does a quality band survive without becoming ridiculous or, worse, irrelevant?

"You just keep your nose to the grindstone and keep working and pray for the best," DiNizio says. "Working hard is certainly a key element, standing on the right corner at the right time certainly comes into play. We wouldn't have been able to survive for over five years without a record deal, without any kind of success initially. But the common love of a certain type of music held us together, and it continues to do so."

The Smithereens play at 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 17 at Rockefeller's. Tickets are $18.50. Call 869-TICS for info.

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