Friday, 3 December 2010

The Smiths

So here I am, busily writing this blog when I glance at the calendar and…heavens! I’ve been tapping away for over three years now - and I still haven’t got around to The Smiths. So here is a post to redress this appalling oversight.

If ever there was a band that split the music community, it was the Moz and Marr cooperative (Manchester division). On the one hand there was (and still is) a hardcore following of fanatical devotion and on the other, a bevy of critical and equally fanatical Moz-haters with me sort of in the middle ground but with leanings towards the devotees.

Actually, I’ve become more of a fan as the years have gone by but it was only recently whilst I transferred all my Smiths vinyl LPs to MP3 files that I have undertaken a proper retrospective. And the findings have been not quite what I expected. Back in the day, I bought each album as it arrived and rather leaned towards the earlier works like ‘The Smiths’, ‘Hatful of Hollow’ and ‘Meat is Murder’. By the time ‘The Queen is Dead’ arrived my interest was waning and when ‘Strangeways Here We Come’ was released I very nearly ignored it.

Undoubtedly, as a complete body of work, you really can’t fault it. The marriage of Marr’s complex guitar driven melodies and Morrissey’s grimly realistic kitchen sink lyrics is a gift that doesn’t get offered too often. It is simply like no other song writing partnership before or since. Then add in the killer rhythm section of Joyce and Rourke and it’s difficult to see how they could’ve gone wrong.

Listening to the albums again in sequence my initial view that the early stuff is best still holds but only for ‘Hatful of Hollow’ the compilation of BBC sessions, which remains their finest hour by a big margin. The playing, enforced by the live session environment, is tight and crisp and the material exemplary. Funnily enough, I now find the early studio albums a bit bland and have begun to appreciate the later ones more. In particular, ‘Strangeways’, the album that almost didn’t get bought, I now find is very listenable indeed.

So, I’m still a big fan of The Smiths, but not in the same way that I once was. ‘Hatful of Hollow’ is still the album to buy, but where I would’ve pointed newcomers to the early studio albums, I am now going suggest ‘Strangeways’ and possibly ‘The Queen is Dead’. Just don’t ask me again in another ten years as I’ll probably have changed my mind again.

Here's 'William, It Was Really Nothing' which just aches with 80s nostalgia.


Zee said...

I agree, the Smiths are amazing. They have an very unique style.Marr's awesome guitar riffs and Morrisey's straight, humorous lyrics go together like bread and butter(sorry if you happen to not like bread and butter! I'm assuming you do)
I remember Morrisey's amazing lyrics to "Big Mouth Strikes Again".
"Now I know how Joan of Arc felt, as the flames rose to her Roman nose and her hearing aid started to melt."
He never fails to amuse me. And of course, Marr's wonderful guitar melodies are what make "Big Mouth Strikes Again" one of my favourite songs.
I loved this post!

music obsessive said...

Hi Zee! I soo agree. Morrissey is one of the funniest writers around yet is saddled with this 'miserable' tag. Clearly people miss the black northern humour. Shame on them.

luminous muse said...

Well now Martin, I must dig deeper to try to understand these Smiths. My obstacle is the singing. It has that croony quality that also turned me off to "Tears for Fears" (I finally got to like them.)

I hear echoes of Dean Martin in that kind of singing, which has my 60s self running for the hills. But I respect your taste so I will keep digging.

music obsessive said...

John - I think the Smiths are worth persevering with but if you don't get on, you don't get on. Who said we all have to be the same? I know what you mean about the singing and often it doesn't work ('Panic' and 'Shoplifters' are exhibits A and B) but when it does and Morrissey's 'Oscar Wilde' observations meet Marr's complex layered guitars it is a noise to be reckoned with. For poignant beauty try 'This Night has Opened my Eyes' and for sheer make-you-smile silliness,'Bigmouth Strikes Again' as championed by Zee (comment above). Both are from Hatful of Hollow'.

Piano said...

Thanks for sharing. This artist influenced me a lot, a reason why I started to play instruments. I am into playing the piano now, and I am still learning but I'm having a blast. Thanks again!

music obsessive said...

Hi Piano - I think many people have an inspiration for learning an instrument. Looks like I hit yours. Keep practising!