The Smiths’ debut is often regarded as an album that could have been much better, yet was marred by a production that did the songs no justice. You realize this is true the second “Reel Around The Fountain” starts playing, but it also dawns on you that some selections were not that strong to begin with either, and that no amount of production wizardry could have elevated them. The most obvious case is “Miserable Lie”, a song which actually worked quite well live. There are also a couple of tracks such as “You’ve Got Everything Now” and “I Don’t Owe You Anything” that are pure vitriol – Morrissey is yet to find how to articulate certain feelings and shape them into songs.
In any case, the album has enough praiseworthy tunes to merit a purchase. These include the unsettling “Pretty Girls Make Graves” (a tale of a homosexual besieged by a woman who keeps on making advances), the yearning “Still Ill” and one of the few Smith tunes that virtually everybody reveres: “This Charming Man”. I bet you know it, but just in case:
The album likewise includes their first single ever (“Hand In Glove”), albeit it was remixed and it doesn’t fade in like the single cut. A song which is often dismissed but which I greatly admire is “What Difference Does It Make?”. It was released as a single, and it was an obvious choice – Marr piled almost 15 guitars and played them all with his usual gusto.
There are also two controversial numbers (“Reel Around The Fountain” and “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle”) that approach affection and manifestations of love in slightly fitful settings – they were actually denounced in the press as condoning child abuse. A third song (“Suffer Little Children”) dealt with a touchy issue (The Moors Murders) in a way that some saw as opportunistic, but which turned out to denote genuine concern and tristfulness.
Summing up, while this album is not perfect it did more than enough to make the general public aware that something was making waves in the Manchester scene in 1984, and that those waves could sweep the entire country before too long. “England is mine and it owes me a living”, Mozzer sang in “Still Ill”. He captured the frustration of thousands in the aftermath of the punk years, and The Smiths’ first album still stands its ground – not as a flawless piece but as an authentic artifact of the despondency we all feel when we are leaving adolescence behind and we realize that there is something against us. And “it’s not time”.