Posts Tagged The Smiths

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 12,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 20 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Watch out for the puppets

I watched a lot of ‘Wide Awake Club’ as a lad (back in the days of just three, then, glory be, four channels), but never saw ‘Data Run’, its predecessor in the Saturday morning kids’ TV slot. As such, I saw plenty of Mallet’s Mallet, but not this little gem.

The children of 1984 meet The Smiths – or ‘Paul’ Morrissey (his own fault for gadding about by surname only) and Johnny Marr at least. Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke are reduced to being off-handedly referred to by Marr, appropriately enough given the legal structure of the band which saw Joyce and Rourke reduced to, in effect, session players. Towards the end of the clip, in a weird coincidence, images of two puppets fighting intertwine with shots of Mike Joyce drumming (and grinning inanely), as if foretelling the end of the Smiths and subsequent legal battles.

We see lots of coquettish pointing between Moz and Marr, some half-arsed answers to the kids’ questions (despite it being clear they were never in the same place at the same time), a muddy rehearsal of ‘Hand In Glove’, and a curiously awkward acoustic version of ‘This Charming Man’. Morrissey describes how many of his songs were inspired by “horrible teachers who made life miserable for me” and warns how current pupils may one day sign up to record companies and “get their revolting revenge”. Not too much later, Moz would hammer this point home with The Headmaster Ritual (later, as I’ve already wittered on about, painting a more modern view of the classroom).

The presenter tells us to “watch out for the puppets”, although to be honest I’d rather just ignore them because, taken out of context, they’re a little too sinister for comfort. I suspect they were equally sinister in context to be honest. Why things are kicked off with a shot of Sinister Puppet #1 raising and lowering a newspaper from his face I really don’t know. And this over background audio of ‘Reel Around The Fountain’ which attracted (fairly laughable) tabloid accusations of paedophilia at the time (“It’s time the tale were told / Of how you took a child and made him old”).

If I ever get into TV, that’s how I intend to introduce every item from a primary school.

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What the world’s been waiting for

Wow.

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I’ve lost my will, but still I see some hope

Every now and then I indulge myself with a trip back into the music of the mid-1990s. Revealingly, I rarely listen to the stuff I listened to contemporaneously. Gene are one such example: heralded as The New Smiths they never really cut the mustard. At the time I was aware of Olympian and Fighting Fit (this video is a treat for that niche market of fans of both Gene and Star Trek), but have since fallen in love with their first single, For The Dead.

Frankly, they needn’t have made another song after this, they squeezed it all into this one – a healthy dose of misanthropy, Mozzerian growls in the chorus, allusions to suicide shot through with a lack of conviction disguised as gallows humour (“give me a rope, I’ll take it gladly / find me a tree and make it snappy”), and a wonderful sense of kitchen sink melodrama (“goodbye ma! It’s my time to go”).

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I sense something more

To mark the end of the latest theme week, allow me to indulge myself a little more in something else Mozzerian.

Facebook, for all its faults (no, I don’t want to help you build a farm, or further your Mafia empire, and I don’t care about your thoughts on the weather – I didn’t really like you at school in the first place, to be honest), occasionally sparkles. A friend recently posted a video of The Smiths playing Handsome Devil live in concert in Spain, the kind of unexpected exposure to a song which made me remember just how utterly fantastic it is.
 
One of their earliest tracks, and best captured as part of their ever-productive sessions with John Peel, it bursts into life with an explosion of drums and guitar, setting the tone for a stripped-down sound which nevertheless squeezes every drop of aural impact out of an arresting 2 minutes 44 seconds.
 
Morrissey himself is on strident, lustful form, addressing matters of the flesh in a strikingly direct way. His lyrics are full of ambiguity and suggestion around the gender, age, and reciprocation of the object of his affections. Talk of mammary glands, boys in the bush, swallowing in scholarly rooms, and getting onto the conjugal bed is somehow both explicit and equivocal at the same time: this is Morrissey at his polemic best, inevitably inviting all kinds of questions to be raised, and the odd article of outrage to be included in the early-to-mid-80s tabloids too.
 
This is of the era where it seemed every line Morrissey sang was instantly memorable (or possibly just memorised from one of Shelagh Delaney’s works, but anyway…), including most of this song, but especially the following, one of my all-time favourites:
 
“There’s more to life than books, you know / But not much more”
 
What this heady mix of tight, fraught instrumentation, and provocative, intriguing lyrics gives us is a song that is as thrilling as it is enthralling. It also gives the listener is an early example of Morrissey’s et ceterisation (which, thanks to Gavin Hopps, I now completely understand), as he sings “Oh, let me get my hands on your mammary glands / And let me get your head on the conjugal bed / I say, I say, I sa-a-a-y” – a glorious mix of Kenneth Williams’ faux-outrage and music-hall joke intro. As if tired of his elaborate allusions, Morrissey ends with a yelped “ow!” of, depending on your interpretation, pain, pleasure, or damned frustration.

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Grabbed, devoured, and kicked in the showers

1985’s Meat Is Murder, The Smiths’ second studio album, was quite a departure from their eponymous debut, both lyrically and musically. The debut album was let down by poor production, resulting in recordings which sound wafer-thin in places, and meaning that the Hatful of Hollow compilation is in some ways a better representation of their earliest work.
 
By the time of the second album however, the greater force and direction of the music was done full justice in its engineering. The prominence of Andy Rourke (bass) and Mike Joyce (drums) are particularly noticeable, and set a thoroughly concrete foundation for Johnny Marr’s melodies. While his familiar ‘jingle-jangle’ is still the defining element, Marr embraces other elements, most notably funk, showing a leap forward in his writing.
 
Morrissey, meanwhile, leaves behind most of the callow, reticent, passive persona of the first album (the girl-shy boy of Pretty Girls Make Graves, the impotent despair of Miserable Lie), and reveals a strident sense of assertiveness and outrage.
 
The Headmaster Ritual opens the album by railing against violent authority figures, rejecting education and life, while I Want The One I Can’t Have sees Moz as the frustrated lover, imploring his unwitting target to call round when they have grown up a little – this song begs more questions of his own sexuality than it gives answers. What She Said is another song which can be comfortably interpreted in any number of ways, in which a bookish, resigned girl is brought to life by a scally from the Wirral.
 
We see a little of the frailer Morrissey is on That Joke Isn’t Funny Any More (reputed to be Marr’s personal Smiths highlight), and the beautiful Well I Wonder, where even in the throws of death, defiance persists: “Gasping, but somehow still alive / This is the fierce last stand of all I am”.
 
Both Rusholme Ruffians (tainted at least a little in the knowledge that it, um, ‘borrows heavily’ from one of Victoria Wood’s piano sing-alongs) and Nowhere Fast (with its early pop at the monarchy, and wonderful train-track rhythm) contemplate life mundanities, whether the casual aggression of a northern fairground or a stultifying life of marvelling at the most basic of domestic appliances.
 
The album closes with Barbarism Begins At Home and Meat Is Murder, Morrissey decrying cruelty to children and the eating of animals. Both tracks feature unusual aural effects, from the singer’s own yelps, to the cries of distressed cows interspersed with the sound of the abattoir knife. These last two bring the album to an appropriate end, being songs of protest and outrage.
 
If I can come over all pushy for a moment, ignore the acclaim for The Queen Is Dead being The Smiths’ best album: it isn’t, this is. Meat Is Murder is their tightest, most focused, most ‘joined-up’ album. It’s not perfect, but finding the last two tracks to be over-long isn’t too bad as far as criticisms go, and it manages to avoid nearly all whimsy (Victoria Wood pastiches notwithstanding). When writing these album pieces, I generally focus on a select number of key songs from the album; I had to write about all of these (excluding How Soon Is Now?, which was added to re-issues of the album and therefore doesn’t count. The album also sounds better without it).
 
This is simply an outstanding piece of work. You’ll have spotted I’ve linked to every single song mentioned above (including those not on the album) bar one, and here it is, perhaps my all-time number one (including a video featuring Moz in several lovely blouses):

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Party like it’s between 1998 and 2001

As part of my ongoing attempts to manage my music through iTunes, rather than have iTunes derange me to the point of murderous intent (so far it’s winning comfortably), I recently stumbled across a home-made music compilation I’d nearly forgotten about. Harking back to the very late 90s/very early 2000s, this compilation is something of a personal time-stamp for me, reflecting as it does what I thought of as the definitive soundtrack to a night out back then. It was inspired by a long-standing weekly Saturday night out in a club called Le Bateau in Liverpool. The full track listing is below, but before we get there, a few (self-)reflections:

…could I be/have been any more of an ‘indie kid’? Two Charlatans tracks? Two?? Jesus Christ… Loaded by Primal Scream now sounds like just about the dullest thing I’ve ever heard. Clearly I was becoming obsessed by The Hives. The inclusion of Skeleton Key reminds me how the club played The Coral’s debut album in its entireity on the night of its release, them being local rising stars and all (the Wirral being part of Liverpool when it suits, of course)…

Side A   Side B
Track Artist   Track Artist
Sexy Boy Air Brown Sugar The Rolling Stones
Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth The Dandy Warhols Do You Remember The First Time? Pulp
Trash Suede 21st Century Rip Off The Soundtrack Of Our Lives
Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over The Charlatans Hate to Say I Told You So The Hives
This Is Love PJ Harvey Fools Gold The Stone Roses
Town Called Malice The Jam Last Nite The Strokes
Loaded Primal Scream Main Offender The Hives
There She Goes The La’s Love Will Tear Us Apart Joy Division
Kung Fu Ash Animal Nitrate Suede
Panic The Smiths Bigmouth Strikes Again The Smiths
The Only One I Know The Charlatans Laid James
Waterfall The Stone Roses Once Around the Block Badly Drawn Boy
Skeleton Key The Coral I Am the Resurrection The Stone Roses
Doledrum The La’s Die, All Right! The Hives
    There Is a Light That Never Goes Out The Smiths

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I hardly know whether to laugh or cry

I can’t help but feel like I’ve been living a lie. The best part of 20 posts in, and I’ve made – at best – passing reference to Morrissey. Most people who know me would probably quickly attest to my deeply unhealthy obsession with all things, um, Mozzerian.

One of my favourite activities at work is to chuck in as many semi-relevant Smiths/Morrissey references as possible (lots are the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel: Still Ill, do you think you’ve made the right decisions this time?, and, of course, Barbarism Begins At Home). Just today in fact, while discussing a part-time role, 0.5 of a full-time equivalent, out I came with “So, for this half a person…”.

I still can’t decide whether my subsequent, painfully detailed, explanation of these references to all those in the room  at the time (occasionally involving the use of flipchart and pen) adds or takes away from their piquancy.

One of my favourite Smiths’ tracks (by which I mean it makes my top 75) is Girl Afraid, a 1984 B-side to Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now. A great example of the band’s early sheer depth of material, the lyrics display characteristic ambiguity around sexual desire (“Where do his intentions lay / Or does he even have any?”), and a pessimist view of ‘normal’ relationships

Morrissey contemplates a girl and boy’s perspectives in what seems to be a shy, uncomfortable relationship, and highlights their complete misinterpretation of each other’s feelings:

“He never really looks at me / I give him every opportunity / … I’ll never make that mistake again”

“Prudence never pays / … She doesn’t even like me / And I know because she said so”

This scenario is painfully evocative of young teenage romances, doomed to fail through a near-complete inability to string two words together between each other, ‘going out’ ending up as a series of awkward events where the participants sit and stare and worry, possibly over bottles of cheap white cider. At least that’s how the teenage me always assumed these things played themselves out.

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