The Smiths – The Smiths – Round 48 – Graham’s Choice

Had illness not prevented my attendanceMI0001878519 at the previous round, this would have been my selection for that week. However, the motivation on that occasion would have been more around, “get one in by this lot, before anyone else does”.

When Nick set his ‘turning point’ theme, I looked around for records which marked a moment of  personal or listening significance and found a few turning points that led to equivalent of “no through roads”, as far as DRC is concerned. For example, the moment when you realise that it is probably a good idea to dispense with listening to prog rock, would mean all sorts of horrors could have been inflicted on fellow members.

But as turning points go, this revelation was more  like the slow turning circle of a ocean going super tanker, as it took me well over a year from release until I began to embrace the Smiths and their music. As some of the offerings detailed on this site show, at 18, I considered myself fairly eclectic in my choices and hadn’t yet tired of U2, enjoyed the acerbic prettiness of the Bunnymen, felt I was being ‘edgy’ by listening to R.E.M., and still managed to sneak along to see Marillion.

I wasn’t prepared to submit to the cultish observance to the Smiths which I saw around me. Neither was I prepared to listen to a music press touting them as the most important thing to have happened that decade. I constructed arguments  around why it was important to ignore them because of references (very misunderstood) to the Moors murders and a lead singer who seemed both too weird and cannot sing (‘…..but you should hear him play piano!’. Apologies, but could not resist).

Time is a great healer and by the end of 1985 a string of fantastic singles by the band had worn me down and I finally reached for my polo neck jumper and knelt at the temple of Mozza and Marr. The introspective and insecure subject matter of the lyrics began to fascinate me and I quickly discovered that the Smiths had some of the catchiest and most beautiful guitar based indie/pop rock that I had ever heard. My delay in submission simply allowed me to gorge on the subsequent compilations and singles I had ignored for over a year.

As for the album itself, I am so familiar with it, a judgement on how it sounds today is difficult to arrive at. ‘Reel Around the Fountain’, ‘The Hand that Rocks the Cradle’ and ‘Suffer Little Children’ still haunt with the combination of subversive lyrics and fantastic melodies. Quirkiness and energy still pours from ‘You’ve Got Everything Now’ and ‘Miserable Lie’. If you can’t sing along to all the words of ‘Hand in Glove’ or ‘What Difference Does it Make’, then you haven’t explored the treasures the ‘The Smiths’ has to offer and certainly never went to a student disco in the 1980’s.

Tom Listened: I have a theory, of which I am ever more certain with each passing meeting of the Record Club, that a predisposition (or not) towards a certain type of music or band is almost wholly contextual. Sure there is some music that is just plain awful (Black Lace, Pink Floyd) but for most bands that have released an album or two that have come to be considered as ‘classics’ it’s rare, if the volume is turned up and prejudices are put to one side, that the true quality of the work doesn’t begin to shine on through.

I have to thank Graham for enlightening me to The Smiths in general and their first album in particular. As a teenager desperate to avoid the cliques in the sixth form common room, I dismissed The Smiths as mopey and dull and way too affected – just like my ‘friends’ who listened to them. When my tastes in music began to broaden at university I listened to the eponymous first album a couple of times but I didn’t really want to like it and was almost relieved to find it mopey, dull and too affected. Although only removed by a few years, the ‘thin trebly jangle pop’ of The Smiths seemed a million miles away from the thrillingly visceral music I was exploring at the time – MBV, Pixies, Sonic Youth, Dino Jr etc and I was happy to hand back the cassette I had borrowed and say ‘thanks, but no thanks’.

But, as is so often the case, fast forward 20 years, let much water pass under the bridge and listen again, carefully and with an open mind and, sure it is still as trebly, jangly and affected as ever but there is also so much to enjoy here – Morrisey’s singing and lyrics are quite astonishing, Marr’s guitar work accomplished and innovative and the rhythm section is surely one of the most underappreciated bass and drum pairings in popular music.

I have subsequently dug out my CD of the Queen is Dead that has barely been listened to since I picked it up in a sale 10 years ago and it’s just great…as it’s supposed to be…and now I’ve allowed myself to like it, it’s as though my music collection has just gained another album! Silly me.

Nick listened: The Smiths aren’t my band, the way that some other bands are. I feel no sense of ownership or kinship or belonging to their cult, particularly. I’m too young to have caught them in their (brief, prolific) heyday, and by the time I was a teenager exploring music they were a relic, something my older brother had listened to and that, thus, I would ignore, because who wants to follow the path already trodden? So I consigned them to a mental dustbin, labelled “miserablist parody”, and carried on with other music.

I eventually bought The Queen Is Dead when I was at university, treated it almost like a coursework assignment, and, like Adorno or Debord or Barthes, admired it and absorbed its ideas and structures, but never considered that I could fall in love with it. I only explored Meat Is Murder beyond that, because the old CD version had “How Soon Is Now?” on it, which I really liked, but I didn’t really bother absorbing the rest of the record.

Until about 18 months ago when the remastered box set, which collects all four studio albums and the four early compilations together, was ludicrously cheap – like £25. So other than the big singles and such, I only really heard The Smiths outside of The Queen Is Dead very recently. My feelings for them haven’t changed much, though; I still admire them more than care for them, as much as I may enjoy the way Morrissey writes lyrics and twists melodies and song structures over Marr & co’s instrumental backing as if he’d never heard a song by another rock band before. I think, from “This Charming Man” and all the daffodil-waving and fey-ness, that I’d expected their debut album to be limp, brief, and easily blown away in a gust of wind, but actually, like The Queen Is Dead, it’s surprisingly muscular and powerful beneath the surface. Thoroughly enjoyable.


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