The Smiths were an enormously influential 80’s band that hailed from Manchester, England. The group comprised singer Morrissey, guitar luminary Johnny Marr and a rhythm section of Andy Rourke (bass) and Mike Joyce (drums). The ability of the latter is often overlooked, if only because the band itself was not that democratic – as a matter of fact, Morrissey and Marr received 40 % each of the band’s income while the rhythm men received just 10 % each. The band broke up in 1987 (for the simple reason that Marr and Morrissey could no longer stand each other) and a lawsuit ensued in 1996 over royalties, effectively driving them further apart and wiping out any chance of a reunion (unlikely to begin with). Rourke would eventually settle for less than he was entitled to, but Joyce took it to the bitter end.
The truth is that the four musicians were top-notch. Marr was one of the top guitar players of his day, and the funny part is that he hated playing solos. He claims he seldom took one, referring to his guitar interludes on songs like “Shoplifters Of The World Unite” and “Paint A Vulgar Picture” as sort of mini-breaks. Joyce and Rourke had a very good interplay, just listen to the fade of the song “The Queen Is Dead” from the album that goes by the same name. It is unjust to discredit them.
For its part, Morrissey was a very characteristic singer. He has a style of its own, and not everybody likes it. As a matter of fact, those who are reluctant to listening to the band feel that way mainly because of Morrissey’s delivery. Listening to him is not always easy on the ear, granted. But credit where it is due – he had a knack for writing lyrics. As far as I am concerned, his forte was naming songs. He often picked up a phrase that had paradoxical value and that was not directly mentioned as part of the lyrics: “How Soon Is Now?”, “Nowhere Fast” and “Seasick, Yet Still Docked” are obvious examples. In terms of content, he conceptualized everything in a way that would make a smile light up your face, or even laughter come forth. Not any kind of smile, and not any kind of laughter. A bitter smile. A bitter laughter. He always seemed to be saying. “Life reeks, and it laughs at you. Do not laugh it off. Laugh right back in its face”. Needless to say, Morrissey as a lyricist will be the main theme of a forthcoming post.
The Smiths released four albums of original compositions, one live album and countless compilations. The latter have more than intrinsic value if only because they released a fair share of non-album singles, and all are worth being tracked down. This is just an example:
There was a time I was mad about The Smiths. I thought I had outgrown them, but I recently picked up the two albums I was missing, and while I can’t say I am enamoured with them again I can honestly tell you that all their albums are worth having. I am reviewing all of them very soon. In the meantime, start with “The Queen Is Dead” and head forth from there. It is a quintessential album, and if you don’t have it there is a definitive gap in your music collection, especially if you are keen on British guitar music of the 90’s.