I had a wonderful night with The Smiths the other night. I started out opening a bottle of UNIBROUE brewery’s QUATRE-CENTIEME*, digging in for some serious writing and, of course, firing up the stereo. I’ve blogged before about Dan Wilcox’s show on KCRW, which is on Saturday nights, but Mondays have become an even more sacred radio night with Mario Cotto, whose show is just mind-boggling in it’s coverage (I’ve heard everything from G-n-R’s Sweet Child O’ Mine to Cage and Aviary to Throbbing Gristle’s Hamburger Lady). This evening Mr. Cotto’s final set contained The Smith’s THE HEADMASTER RITUAL off of their 1984 album MEAT IS MURDER. Hearing this, a song I wasn’t that familiar with in the first place, and it’d probably been about fifteen years since I’d last heard, I did what I’d been meaning to do for some time now.
I broke out my Smiths.
There is something about Morrisey. Now, first I guess I should forewarn, I don’t know half as much about this guy as a lot of people do. Way back in the day when I first heard The Smiths I was really thrown for a loop. I was in High School and working my way out of a strictly metal diet and being introduced to a lot of the stuff I mentioned in my previous post. And the same people who all had Black Flag, Misfits and The Cure bumper stickers on their cars and albums in their collections to lend me so I could dub on cassette also had Smiths stickers and albums.
Guitar wise Johnny Marr is like Robert Smith – they can have more emotional effect playing three notes than eddie van haggard can have playing one hundred, and it can similarly be said for Smith and Morrisey, both of whom are arguably far darker and more subversive than a lot of those ‘punk rock’ counter-parts. It’s all in the approach – are you going to be able to do more damage to the macdonalds by spra-painting the side of their building or by wearing a suit and tie and getting a job with them, working your way up through the ranks to where you can do some real damage?
Morrissey though is something. The thing that originally drew me in with The Smiths (I know absolutely nothing about his solo work) is how he has the nicest way of singing about the most horrible things. Look at the lyrics to BIGMOUTH STRIKES AGAIN. Or there’s THE QUEEN IS DEAD. I love the Sex Pistols and their hissing venom for all things and people ‘royalty’ but really, there is something so subtle and clever about Morrissey’s words. It almost makes me wonder if it was a consolidated effort, Lydon agreeing to ‘Storm the beaches’ so to speak and draw attention away from The Smiths while they snuck in to far more accepted and acknowledged places and sang songs about the pointless, embarrassing nature of royalty and government, the hideousness of humanity and the downright evolutionary fact that a whole lot of people on this Earth waste the air they breathe and deserve to go the way of the Dodo.
And although they’re known primarily with Morrissey’s vocals on top of them I definitely cannot forget to, at the very least, briefly touch on the masterful musicianship of the other four guys in the band. Pick up ‘RANK’, which is, I think (please please please correct me if I’m wrong) they’re only official live album and listen to the THE DRAIZE TRAIN. Amazing lads on their instruments**.
Like the bands I spoke of in my previous post, there is such a thriving, virile energy in the Smith’s that I recommend anyone not familiar with them but wanting either something timeless and ignitable or a look into the origins of the music of the 90’s, this is a good place to start.
Now, time for another beer.
* Awesome beer, but everything Unibroue does is awesome.
** That’s Marr on guitar, Andy Rourke on bass and Mike Joyce on drums
Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey