The career of The Smiths was characterized by the (back then) inordinate number of compilations they were to issue. The first one saw the light shortly after the release of their eponymous debut, and it was named “Hatful Of Hollow”. The album comprised many songs recorded for radio shows, along with assorted A-sides and B-sides.
As I am sure you recall, one of the main problems the debut album had was that the production was not as punchy as it could have been. That meant the impact of its songs was somehow diluted, and since about half of the tracks that were found on the debut are played live on “Hatful Of Hollow”, this compilation has added appeal. Of these songs, the ones that work best are “Reel Around The Fountain” (the drums are so booming that it sounds like a different song) and an acoustic “This Charming Man” that is even janglier than the original cut. Conversely, “Still Ill” is not that appealing – maybe the added harmonica at the start and at the end is the problem. It just does not fit in. And the live “What Difference Does It Make?” and “You’ve Got Everything Now” are not that removed from the original performances as to make you rethink those versions. However, it is admirable how well Marr plays “What Difference Does It Make?” live, as in the studio more than 15 guitars had been combined. That doesn’t make the song better or worse, but it places his skills in a very favorable light.
One of the featured A-sides is “William, It Was Really Nothing”, a song many propound was about a romantic relationship Morrissey had with some journalist. It is a short and sweet song, but it is easily one of their least effective singles. And while “How Soon Is Now?” is included, the song had not been released as a single yet.
The other A-side that found its way here is the brilliant “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, a song that obviously lends itself to some gratuitous comments and criticism. Since the song is so good, that makes such criticism become more prevalent.
Conversely, a song which is short and sweet and poignant is “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”. You might have become acquainted with it through the cover which is played at the end of the “This Is England” movie. That version is played by Clayhill. But the original version is the one which is truly majestic. Morrissey sings a short lyric about redemption and second chances in the first half, while Johnny plays a mandolin solo at the conclusion of the song.
Out of the studio rarities, the one that works best is clearly “Girl Afraid”, a composition that deals with the mental torture that people self-impose upon themselves in this “mad, mad world” as Tears For Fears used to sing.
The remaining tunes are nothing to go out of your way for. “Handsome Devil” is intermittently catchy, and the subject matter is one Morrissey knows how to milk, whereas “Back To The Old House” is somehow haunting in its arrangement. That is about it. “These Things Take Time” and “Accept Yourself” are not a very compelling listen, and the single version of “Hand In Glove” is a lesser one since it fades in.
I do recall I bought this album because I couldn’t find the debut when I wanted it. It is clear to me that it is something only a fan would enjoy. Casual listeners are better off buying any of their regular studio albums, or the two discs named “The Best Of The Smiths”.