Monday, August 15, 2005

Smiths

Smiths- Hatful Of Hollow
Smiths- The World Won’t Listen


You Ess versus them, packaging and repackaging.

Both ‘Hatful’ and ‘Listen’ are European Smiths releases. I bought ‘em a few years back when I was in London and Amsterdam with BQ, Honor and the Black Tank.

I never knew any of the songs on either of these records as singles- like a lot of kids, I suspect, I was exposed to the material through the American “Louder Than Bombs” comp, a double album powerhouse of hits. The thought of the Smiths as a singles band blows me away- over here, it was digging, a secret society. When the band was playing, though, not only were they right in everyone’s line of sight, but they did well for themselves. I wonder how much of an impression the Smiths would have made on me as singles artists rather than as a note passed on the sly in study hall- would I have thought of them the same way as bands who wither under the harsh light of overexposure, or would the connection have been more immediate and accessable? Jesus, the thought of growing up in a place where the Jam and the Smiths were all over the place is almost more than I can imagine.

Anyway. Singles are singles- little gems designed to get stuck in your head so you have to go out and buy buy buy. The Smiths have a stellar track record (in fact, I’d argue that aside from ‘The Queen Is Dead’ and maybe their first, the Smiths were a way better singles band than they were an album act, but that’s another story entirely). So, the critique that’s left to deliver is that of running order. Both records get all maudlin at the end. ‘World’ drags, whereas ‘Hatful’ is paced a little bit better and features some alternate takes, etc. It’s the better of the two, methinks.

Smiths- Rank

I have a great fondness for this record, my introduction to the Smiths.

When I was in ninth grade, I went on a trip to Quebec City with my French class. There was this huge shopping mall complex underneath our hotel which contained a punk record store called Les Disques Impossibles (still remember the name). I bought a Sex Pistols tapestry, a Sex Pistols live tape, a DRI pin and, of course, Rank.

Didn’t know that much about the Smiths aside from the fact that they were favored by the same group of kids who liked the Sex Pistols, who were my favorite band. Nowhere near as much phlegm, but it still clicked.

The Smiths live didn’t sound anywhere near as nuanced as the studio stuff- the jangle of Johnny Marr’s guitar is largely swallowed by the room and the crowd. Morrissey, though, is still the same- I distinctly remember being amazed by ‘Cemetary Gates’ the first time I heard it, over the headphones in my shared hotel room. A pop song about the evils of plagiarism, featuring multiple (educational) namechecks and punny lyrics? Yes, please! “So we go inside and we gravely read the stones” grabbed me and pulled me in. What the fuck, you know? A rock band singing about reading books? It hadn’t occurred to me that such a thing could ever be possible. Hearing it made me feel like I had been missing something crucial, like developing a seventh sense or discovering a new dimension.

It wasn’t until later that I got around to tracking down the band’s studio stuff and getting acquainted with Mr. Marr and his chiming lexicon, the full package.

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