Monday, November 24, 2008

Album Review: The Smiths

The Smiths -'The Sound Of The Smiths' (Warners)

Another year, another Smiths compilation? Well, of course, that does depend on which edition of this album you get. The selling point of this album, and surely the attraction to many of us is Disc 2, with many rarities (though still no 'Work Is A Four Letter Word').

Rather than dwelling on yet another Smiths compilation, let us focus on the music instead. For a band that were together for five years, with a recording career of four, The Smiths had a highly productive work-rate where the bar was set almost impossibly high for anyone to follow. Morrissey and Marr surely rate up there with Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards as a songwriting team. They recorded so many classic songs that it's hard just to focus on one or two...but if you're a certain age and you haven't heard these songs, what the hell have you been doing? 'How Soon Is Now?' remains my favourite. With its' middle-eight:

'There's a club if you'd like to go,
You could meet somebody who really loves you
So you go and you dance on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home, and you cry,
And You Want To Die.'

'Songs That Saved Your Life (referencing a track 'Rubber Ring', which is not included here) was the name of a book about the Smiths' music, and the reality is that their music did just that. As a miserable teenager, wondering if I'd ever get a girlfriend, this song spoke volumes to me. Years later, it soundtracked the mid-twenties slump as my relationships soured badly, and it still soundtracked break-up misery. 'Meat Is Murder' was definitely a factor in me becoming vegetarian, and apparently one of the most influential things on many people becoming vegetarian over the last twenty-five years. I was marginally displeased when one school friend wrote 'Sixteen, clumsy and shy' inside my Christmas card one year, though it was probably very accurate. The night I freaked out listening to 'Suffer Little Chidlren' and that image of Myra Hindley (shudder) filled my head. The girl I fancied who I got into The Smiths, if even just a little bit (we're still very good friends).

...and these are just my own stories. How many other people spent their teenage years clutching their Smiths records, living through them? Even repeated readings of Adrian Mole hadn't prepared us for how sodding awful teenage life would be. Marr made it seem like you could be a guitar hero without being a prat, Morrissey that beiong a rock god was not all about being full of testosterone. The fact is, it's not just about adolescence remembered, these songs are classic from any era. And yes there was misery (sometimes too much, 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore' is the sort of thing that gave The Smiths' detractors everything they needed on one seven inch single). But there was humour, dry observation, wit, and that music. When I heard The Queen Is Dead aged fourteen, it was pretty much a road to damascus moment. It wasn't always easy getting hold of The Smiths' music in the early nineties, with the collapse of Rough Trade; the studio albums were only avilable on expensive import from the US. Quite how four studio albums as strong as theirs were allowed to go unavailable is a mystery.

The music remains timeless. The second disc reminds us of tracks that perhaps fell a little down the list of how good they were - but I've loved listening to 'Jeane' 'Please Please Please Let me Get What I Want' and 'Oscillate Wildly' again.

So, we've heard these songs before. But why not once again?


Listening posts:





Anonymous said...

I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible...

Ed said...

Oh mother. Let me go!

Anonymous said...

The Smiths' first Peel session was the soundtrack of summer '83 for me, and I had the good fortune to see 'em at Sheffield Poly in Sept 83, about two weeks before This Charming Man was released.

They were brilliant. Then I was crushingly disappointed in the first album -- the versions were so inferior to the radio sessions (and the Troy Tate sessions too), and a 1984 gig at Leeds Uni was listless beyond belief.

The highs and lows of a great band, eh?

cheers, Craig

Dirk said...

Wise words, Ed.

For me as a German - with my restricted knowledge of the English language - I was always very pleased when a band included lyric sheets to their albums. Nowadays of course you can track down everyting in the internet, but that was impossible back then. You just sat there with your little dictionary, lifting and putting down the needle again and again and again, so that you could find out what someone might possibly be singing about in that specific line, you know. Learning by doing, if you like!

I'll never forget the day when I finally got my hands upon the lyric sheets of The Stranglers' first two albums and The Clash's first album (per mailorder from the UK, they'd cost a fortune!): my life changed on that day, believe me!

No problems like that with the first Smiths album, lyrics were included (thanks Morrisey and/or Rough Trade Germany): I'm willing to have a small bet that I could still sing along to every single line of the whole album these days ... some 24 years later. The same is true for 'London Calling', by the way ...


Anonymous said...

A perfect 5 Ed, really?


Ed said...

Craig - it's disappointing when you feel let down by a band, though sometimes the debut can grow on you

Dirk - I love lyric sheets too, I realised Pulp didn't want us reading the lyrics because they didn't always coincide with what was being sung!

Drew - as it's based on the music, then yes, even 'That Joke Isn;t Funny Anymore' can ruin it.