Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Smiths-S/T

Originally Written and Posted at on 1/21/09.

In the early 1980s, British music had just entered a new phase following the demise of punk. With post-punk and Goth still entrenched in the underground and heavy metal still gaining a following outside of the mainstream. Pop music in Britain was being dominated by a slew of synthesizer-driven pop bands and major label artists that were wearing slick clothes, weird hairdos, and singing songs that didn't really mean much to people. Particularly for those who weren't living in London and couldn't relate to people like Phil Collins and Tina Turner as guitar-driven music fell by the wayside due to synthesizers and leftover 70s rock. In 1984, all of that would change in pop music by four young men from Manchester who would start a revolution of British indie music that would provide British fans a new alternative. That band were simply known as the Smiths.

Formed in 1982, the band consisted of vocalist Steven Patrick Morrissey, guitarist John Maher, bassist Andy Rourke, and drummer Mike Joyce. The band chose the name the Smiths as a reaction towards the pompous names of several acts at the time like Spandau Ballet with Morrissey performing in his surname while John Maher changed his name to Johnny Marr to avoid confusion with the Buzzcocks drummer of the same name. In 1983, the band signed with the independent label Rough Trade records were they recorded sessions with Troy Tate that didn't prove good results as it would later be a popular bootleg. After finding a proper producer in John Porter, the Smiths would finally record and release their seminal self-titled debut in February of 1984.

Produced by John Porter and the Smiths, the band's self-titled debut is an album filled with melodic, jangly, and witty music that would define the British indie music scene in the years to come. With songs written by Morrissey and Johnny Marr, the album is filled with simplistic, layered songs with abstract yet melancholic lyrics about alienation, identity, and oppression from Morrissey's unique point of view in his wailing, engaging vocals. Along with Johnny Marr's intricate guitar playing with a 12-string semi-acoustic guitar, Andy Rourke's melodic bass accompaniment, and Mike Joyce's smooth, thundering, precision-approach drumming. The Smiths' self-titled debut would be one of the great debut albums that would begin a fantastic period for British indie music.

The album opens with Reel Around The Fountain that begins with a smooth, mid-tempo rhythm from Mike Joyce's drums and Andy Rourke's slow bass accompaniment. With Morrissey leading the away with his smooth, tenor vocals and Johnny Marr's rich, arpeggio, melodic guitar. With Joyce's smooth rumbling on the drums, Morrissey's harrowing lyrics of nostalgia and despair, and Marr's guitar driving the song that features Paul Carrack's soft piano and organ accompaniment. It's a fitting opener that provides the template of who the Smiths are. You've Got Everything Now is an upbeat, swanky track led by the bouncy rhythms of Joyce's drums and Rourke's loopy bass lines. With Marr leading with his washy, jangly guitars, Morrissey sings the song with his melancholic tenor and dramatic lyrics to match its dreary tone. With Morrissey singing some falsetto vocal notes on some parts of the song, it's the bouncy rhythm and Marr's swanky guitar washes that provide the song's rich sound.

Miserable Lie is a mid-tempo song with a smooth, thumping rhythm and Marr's intricate, arpeggio-laden guitar work. With Morrissey singing in a bass-like tenor, detached vocal style, it starts off slow before going into a swift, upbeat presentation with its fast, precise drums and Marr's washy guitars as Morrissey continues to sing. With its dark, dramatic lyrics, Morrissey sings in various styles while going into a falsetto style that features Marr's ringing, chime-like guitar flourishes. Pretty Girls Make Graves is a loopy, mid-tempo track with Morrissey's calm, smooth vocals as he sings dark lyrics filled with humor and imagery. With its bouncy rhythm featuring rumbling breaks from Joyce and Marr's washy, jangly guitar melodies driving the song, it's a standout cut from the album. The Hand That Rocks The Cradle is another mid-tempo number led by Marr's ringing arpeggio guitar melodies and a bouncy rhythm led by Joyce's thumping drums and Rourke's loopy bass lines. With Morrissey singing in a smooth, tenor-like vocal, he sings lyrics that are filled with descriptive lyrics of despair as its rhythm and Marr's guitar continues to maintain the song's dark tone.

The single This Charming Man is an upbeat, bouncy song with thumping rhythms from Joyce's drums, Rourke's warbling bass lines, and Marr's intricate, melodic, arpeggio flourishes. With Morrissey singing lyrics filled with wit and melancholia, his vocals shine in its dramatic style. With Marr's guitar leading the track along with Morrissey's vocals and lyrics, it's truly one of the band's high moments as the song is a bonus track in the record. Still Ill is another upbeat song that opens with chugging rhythms and Marr's scratchy guitar that later becomes a rich, arpeggio-laden accompaniment to Morrissey's smooth, wailing vocals as he sings dramatic yet poignant lyrics. With Marr's guitar playing being a highlight for its accompaniment and richness, it serves as a nice complement to Morrissey's vocal that is given full support by the bouncy rhythm of Joyce and Rourke. The album's first single Hand In Glove appears in a more polished, remixed version than its original single version. With Marr's ringing, chime-laden guitar melodies, thumping rhythms, and Morrissey's witty, ambiguous lyrics about love. It's one of the band's key moments as it defines the unique sound of the Smiths.

The third single What Difference Does It Make? is a mid-tempo song led by Marr's ringing guitar melodies that drives the song along with Joyce's hard-hitting snare drums and Morrissey's detached, eerie vocals filled with dark, engaging lyrics. With its smooth, mid-tempo thumping rhythms, it's another classic song from the band that is led by Morrissey's vocals and the jangly guitar work of Johnny Marr. I Don't Owe You Anything is a smooth track with a slow, thumping rhythm led by Joyce's drums and Rourke's melodic bass. With Marr's swanky wash and rich, arpeggio guitar melodies, Morrissey sings in a smooth, calm vocal with dramatic, witty lyrics. Featuring a soft, keyboard accompaniment from Paul Carrack, it's another song that works to show the band's range in performance. The album closer Suffer Little Children is a smooth, haunting track with melodic bass lines, tapping beats, and Marr's ringing, jangly guitar melodies. With Morrissey singing dark lyrics about murders with a calm, restrained vocal that prove to be soothing. Despite the song's dark subject matter and rich, unique presentation with its slow but steady rhythms along with Marr's rich guitar playing. It's a fitting closer to the band's debut album.

When the album came out in early 1984, it would prove to be an influential record in its release. With hit singles for This Charming Man, What Difference Does It Make?, and the non-LP singles Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now and William, It Was Really Nothing that featured the song How Soon Is Now?. The band's debut record would be a hit in the world of the British underground scene with legendary radio DJ John Peel championing the band. It would start a great period for the Smiths where in the years to come, they would become the band fans of non-mainstream music could count on as their debut would later prove to be influential in the years ahead.

The Smiths' self-titled debut is a brilliant debut record from the band. With its classic singles and several album cuts that proved to just as good as those early hit singles. It's a record that is a must-have for fans of the legendary band while those new to the Smiths and wanting to avoid best-of compilations should find this as a nice place to start. This is a record that reveals where the British indie sound really kind of started that would prove to be influential in the 1990s while exemplifying the dramatic style of Morrissey that would also prove to be influential with several of today's indie and, to a lesser degree, emo bands. In the end, the Smiths' debut record is a great debut album that would be the start of something great from the legendary band.

(C) thevoid99 2011

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