In hindsight, I suppose that I just never was a fan of Morrissey but hold the opinion that so far as truly great British bands go, The Smiths remain for always a pinnacle.
In the early eighties, I lived in Woking where The Jam had already been the greatest thing since sliced. It was my cousin Andrew, younger than me, who handed me the Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now single.
He thought that it was so different to the other bands and music around at the time – and he was spot on. Here was this bespectacled beanpole of a man, asking why it was that we pay lip service to people who we actually might rather spit in the eye. I’ve always compared this to the New Years eve scenario, everyone hugging complete strangers blissfully unaware that they could be shaking hands and wishing well a psychotic murderer. Call me cynical and you’d be half-right there too.
So having played that single a few times and sampled the flip-side, I bought the debut album and was blown away. That opening song, Reel Around The Fountain, how I loved singing to that and still do to this day.
Fact, recently I had a bit of a Smiths renaissance, the reason for this article, and played three albums back to back accompanied by some real ale. Fantastic it was, as good for me now as it had always been, my brain recalling every word to every song.
Well, these are my own thoughts for now, here are some others collected from the web – this article is almost five years old now, from The Daily Telegraph…
Superfan Michael Deacon argues The Smiths still sound utterly unique:
“I remember the first time I heard a song by The Smiths. I didn’t understand it. Not that there was anything obscure or experimental about it; it was a three-minute pop song, with verses and choruses in the expected places and an indelible vocal melody.
But still I found it difficult to comprehend. Take the guitar, or guitars. There seemed to be half a dozen of them playing at once, but the result wasn’t heavy or aggressive. It was delicate, fluttering, bright. It was like being dive-bombed by butterflies.
Then that voice. It didn’t sound like a man or a woman. It sounded like a ghost, its accusatory moan swirling and looping around me as though it had come to exact vengeance for some appalling crime I had committed against it. I wasn’t being sung to. I was being haunted. That song was Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now. I soon discovered it was actually one of The Smiths’ least wonderful. It was nothing next to the glittering mandolin lament of I Won’t Share You, the shimmering menace of How Soon Is Now?, the headlong rush of The Headmaster Ritual. They could rock (Sweet and Tender Hooligan). They could dance (Barbarism Begins at Home).
Thirty years since their first single, Hand in Glove, The Smiths remain the greatest band not only of their time but of any time since. No one else in these past three decades has written music as harshly beautiful, or lyrics as moving (or indeed as funny – see Frankly, Mr Shankly). They could get more poetry into a mere title than most bands get into a whole lyric sheet. Shoplifters of the World Unite. Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.
The NME once declared The Smiths the most influential group of the past 50 years. This is the one piece of Smiths praise I disagree with. The Smiths aren’t influential – because they’re too good to copy. Groups who do try to copy them fail. They never have Morrissey’s wit or Johnny Marr’s rhythm. So instead they sound like half-hearted parodies: jangly guitar, mopey singer. Their songs come apart like soggy tissues. The few good bands who have borrowed from The Smiths have always borrowed more heavily from someone else. Radiohead, for example (a bit of The Smiths but a lot more Pink Floyd), or Suede (a bit of The Smiths but a lot more David Bowie).
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
Rolling Stone magazine / Debut album review
When Tom Robinson sang “Glad to Be Gay” back in 1978, he did it as a dirge — the irony, while bracing, was entirely obvious. Six years later, the singer and lyricist of the Smiths — a man called Morrissey — has little use for the ironic mode: His memories of heterosexual rejection and homosexual isolation seem too persistently painful to be dealt with obliquely. Morrissey’s songs probe the daily ache of life in a gay-baiting world, but the bitterness and bewilderment he’s felt will be familiar to anyone who’s ever sought social connection without personal compromise. Whether recalling the confusion of early heterosexual encounters (“I’m not the man you think I am”) or the sometimes heartless reality of the gay scene, Morrissey lays out his life like a shoebox full of faded snapshots.
Given Morrissey’s rather somber poetic stance, The Smiths is surprisingly warm and entertaining. Though Morrissey’s voice — a sometimes toneless drone that can squeal off without warning into an eerie falsetto — takes some getting used to, it soon comes to seem quite charming, set as it is amid the delicately chiming guitars of cocomposer Johnny Marr. And the eleven songs here are so rhythmically insinuating that the persistent listener is likely to find himself won over almost without warning. From “What Difference Does It Make?,” a clever reprise of a venerable garage-punk riff, to the striking opener, “Reel around the Fountain,” and the U.K. hits “Hand in Glove” and “This Charming Man,” this record repays close listening.
So what of the rest of the album cannon? So many times I see s much love for Hatful Of Hollow where all I see is a mismatch of a compilation; those Peel session inserts – Reel Around The Fountain sounds dreadful and Still Ill sounds like an ornate Love Me Do!
Of the compilations, I have a fondness for The World Won’t Listen for its instrumental inclusions, particularly The Draize Train.
I also have an aversion to the acoustic effort of Back To The Old House (Louder Than Bombs) – it has to be the studio 7″ version, backside of What Difference Does It Make for me.
While the debut may have been stunning, my favourite album is The Queen Is Dead for it’s quirkiness, perspicacity and arguably, Marr’s most brilliant work.
My feeling is that here won’t ever be another Smiths. All we have are the songs they wrote in the brief, brilliant period they were together. Happily those songs sound as good today as they did 35 years ago: strange, funny, heartfelt, and ecstatically sad.”