This is yet another album I’m reviewing at the behest of Lord Carter, ostensibly as a punishment but one that has backfired as I quite like The Smiths.
I assume I don’t really need to offer any background information about The Smiths but I’ll give a brief overview all the same. They were formed in Manchester in 1982 and released four studio albums and dozens of singles before splitting somewhat acrimoniously in 1987. Both Morrissey and Johnny Marr have gone on to be very famous in their own right but it’s The Smiths that are revered as hugely influential and a classic, timeless band.
As I said before I quite like The Smiths though I wouldn’t call myself a particularly avid fan, I just have a compilation album of all their singles, but I was very familiar with the albums name and title. It’s an iconic image and one of the those instantly recognisable album covers. I was surprised therefore, that there was only the one song on it that I recognised, the single That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore. Apparently How Soon Is Now?, previously a non-album single, was added to the tracklisting for the American release. Looking further into their single releases its again surprising how many of their singles weren’t on any studio album, even signature songs like Panic and This Charming Man.
The Smiths have a very identifiable sound, both in Johnny Marr’s jingly jangly guitar and in Morrissey’s croon. This album oozes that sound. There’s no chance of listening to it and wondering who it might be, unless you’re completely unfamiliar with them. Whether or not you appreciate that sound largely influences how you’d feel about how good or bad this album is.
The album opens with The Headmaster Ritual, an upbeat, feisty opener admonishing corporal punishment. I’d swear I’ve heard it’s central riff pilfered by someone else but I can’t for the life of me remember where. Morrissey’s vocals are quite yelpy in the chorus of this one. Both Rusholme Ruffians and I Want The One I Can’t Have continue the pace but That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore is slow and morose, to be honest it drags on a bit.
Album closer Meat Is Murder is also a bit of a disappointment. It’s dull, plodding and the message ham fisted. Excuse the pun. It just seems naïve and poorly written which is a shame because it's obviously a subject on which Morrissey feels very strongly.
I think my personal favourite track on the album is Barbarism Begins At Home which is also the longest song at a shade under seven minutes long. It’s another song about corporal punishment though this time, unsurprisingly, at home rather than school. It’s driven by a distinctive, jaunty guitar line and doesn’t seem as long as it is.
The major issue with this album harks back to my previous comment about their distinctive sound. I listened to this album nine or ten times in a row and only then could I tell which song I was listening to. They tend to blur into each other and the faster songs aren’t much faster than the slow songs so there’s a touch of sameyness about it.
Also That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore was a bizarre choice for single and either The Headmaster Ritual or, probably, Nowhere Fast would have been much better choices.
7 out of 10 This is good and well worth a check
You can buy it from Amazon here