Saturday, August 29, 2009

481. The Smiths- An appropriately bland title.

Album: The Smiths.

Artist: The Smiths.

Year: 1984

Genre: Jangly pop.


1. Reel Around the Fountain
2. You've Got Everything Now
3. Miserable Lie
4. Pretty Girls Make Graves
5. Hand That Rocks the Cradle
6. This Charming Man
7. Still Ill
8. Hand in Glove
9. What Difference Does It Make?
10. I Don't Owe You Anything
11. Suffer Little Children

Every review I read of The Smiths made reference to the fact that this release is an album you have to spend time with. The many charms and delights of the Smiths debut aren’t immediately apparent but reveal themselves gradually, like a rosebud or a slow-motion stripper. Fans of the Smiths maintain their music is not instantly accessible but an acquired taste although it’s possible this is just a cunning ruse put forward by the band’s fanbase who firmly believe they’re devoted to the greatest band in the world.

Smiths’ fans are nothing if not dedicated. Reading their views in forums it’s clear that they think lead singer Morrissey wasn’t born instead he’s the spontaneously created residue left behind after a group of gods got together to compare awesomeness. He arrived on the planet and after creating laughter, the internet and oral sex he proceeded to reinvent art and prove that all musicians up to that point were just John the Baptists to his messiah. Morrissey is famously celibate but has clearly been giving Smith’s fans orgasms for his entire recording career. They love him so much that they’re not at all afraid to commit gross acts of exaggeration in forums posts, something they can do secure in the knowledge that their idol is capable of absolving all sins. One such claim is the “their music is an acquired taste” which may just be a clever way of insisting that anyone who doesn’t like them just hasn’t heard them enough.

With that in mind I gave this album eight listens instead of my usual four. I feel I’ve given it ample opportunity to reveal itself but I’m not convinced.

The problem is basically Morrissey’s voice. While there are those who regard Morrissey as the greatest singer ever to clear his throat there are others who believe he managed to fool the music-buying public into thinking he was talented. I’m not going to enter into either side of the debate but I will say that he does nothing at all for me.

Voices are generally fairly subjective things. While there’s nobody who’s going to deny that Pavarotti can hit a note or two, when it comes to the world of rock and pop someone’s vocal chords are a bit like jokes- they either rock you or they don’t. Morrissey just doesn’t move me. It’s partly the monotone thing he does which suggests he’s not actually singing he’s just laying down a demo. It’s also that weird, screechy falsetto he comes up with sometimes, presumably so you view reassess his monotone as a blessed relief. I had a read of Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of 100 great singers suspecting that Mozza (as his fans call him) would be there somewhere. He scrapes in at 92, just above Annie Lennox and just below Levon Helm. Interestingly the key tracks they listed for him weren’t on this album so maybe I’ll revise my view when I encounter more of his work later in the list.

(By the way if you want to check out the full 100 it’s here but avoid the comments which are even more bile-ridden and invective filled than the usual Rolling Stone posting. Rock lists are one of those Liberal v conservative, Mac v PC, Buffy v Twighlight debates that ignite a disturbing degree of passion in the otherwise mentally stable. So you can only imagine what it does to the sort of nutters who bother posting on Rolling Stone articles.)

Aside for Morrissey’s vocal, the album contains tunes that didn’t strike me as especially memorable and instrumentation that you could easily label competent. The lyrics are also nothing that I could get especially excited by. The Smiths caused controversy with its references to pedophilia and child-murdering, which are definitely hot button topics and always going to cause a bit of an uproar. Even after all these years Morrissey’s sexuality is still in question. For years he declared himself a celibate but to this day people are still unsure whether the occasional relationship’s he’s owned up to have been with women or men. Presumably the other people involved have an inkling but they’re not telling. Consequently Smiths fans spend hours dissecting his lyrics to try and track down hints at which way Mozza swings. The general consensus is that there’s lots here that point to a repressed homosexuality. Ironic considering the next album in the list…

Highlight: What difference does it make. I’ve noticed I usually choose the up tempo songs. I wonder if there’s anything in that.

Lowlight: Some of those screechy moments. Stop it Morrissey, stop it now.

Influenced by:
Literature and crimes against children.

Influenced: Everyone who has ever lived, according to Morrissey’s fanbase.

Favourite Amazon customer review quote: “Buying this album is the first step to a brighter, happier future. You will never frown again (unless you are stupid, and don't "get" anything because you are a pseudo-intellectual with no REAL mind of your own who enjoys to slant your eyes and furrow your brow while needlessly carrying the weight of the world on one of your shoulders, and a Jansport backpack with your college "English Lit." textbook in it on the other.)”

-Bloody hell that’s a specific rant.

So is Morrissey the greatest singer/songwriter/lyricist/celibate who ever abstained from engaging with either gender or just a prat who couldn’t get laid? Let me know below.


  1. David,

    I must admit that I was a little scared what you might think of this album, being that I'm a fan of "The Smiths". Admittedly, it was my brother you got me into them, so I guess you can blame him. I take your point that if you are new to "The Smiths" then it can be hard to see what all the fuss is about. Maybe it depends when you come to them... All I can say is that I get what your saying, but I don't necessarily agree. I do however agree that some Smiths fans are fanatical to the point of being unrealistic - I'm not one of those. If you can stand it - the more you listen to the Smiths, the more you may grow to like them. That being said, if Morrisey really doesn't float your boat, then maybe you should leave it here...

    Once again though, an awesome critique of one of my favourite albums... Keep it up!!!

    Chaos Agent #2 - Steve

  2. Steve,

    There's a lot more Smiths to come so I'll get to review more as the countdown progresses. I have a policy of reviewing earlier albums by an artist if the latter ones change my view so I might be coming back to this album down the track.

    Thanks for commenting.


  3. I love The Smiths! My favourite aspect is not actually Moz's voice, actually, but rather the other aspects of the music. For instance, I love Johnny Marr's jangly style, and imo Andy Rourke is one of the most underrated bassists I have heard. I also really like this album; I like "You've Got Everything Now" and "I Don't Owe You Anything."