To kick-start the non hip-hop album reviews that will feature on this blog, I have decided to go with an album that I’ve grown to know only too well; the self titled debut by The Smiths. The album centres around a loss of innocence, in what appears to be an obscure and detached young man. The front man, Morrissey, displays a fear and disgust towards sex, and subsequently plucks at the strings of homoeroticism (“This Charming Man“). The theme of love, and its corruption, comes hand in hand with the protagonist’s aversion to sex and implications of misogyny: “I lost my faith in womanhood“, completed with a twisting turn of focus on child murders.
Without the lyrical storytelling, this album would fail to be worth commenting a great deal on. The imagery created in our imaginations is that of Morrissey kissing under an iron bridge, and the” fresh lilac moorland fields” of England – all images that are so charmingly and eloquently presented, yet all of which are later found to be attached with corruption. Even the tale told in “Suffer Little Children“, which is based on the real life Moors Murders, creates beautifully cold and quivering reflections in the telling of child killings. What Morrissey does so intriguingly is write the lyrics as if they were a stream of thought; closely drawing parallels at times to Holden Cauldfield, of The Catcher In The Rye. The songs appear tales of personal and brutal honesty: “No I’ve never had a job/ because I’m too shy“.
Though the vocals have been described as depressive and whiny, (a view I whole heartedly agreed with upon first listen), the album appears to come to life after being listened to again. The vocals soon begin to appear soaring and pretty, convincingly exposing a vulnerability in the male voice. His vocal style captures a mystique that strays away from both the exaggerated masculinity of 80s pop culture, and the sombre tone of the 80s Post-punk movement – the vocals instead appear to be seductively sung, as Morrissey lingers on words, allowing his voice to frequently waver on vowels. At times, there are outbursts of high pitched vocals, as he breaks free from the lazy tone of his voice, to reveal a desperation behind it.
Musically, I can only describe The Smiths as mildly impressive in their simplicity. However, guitarist Johnny Marr’s jangly pop guitar lines work quite perfectly in saving the album from simply being a nostalgic story. Although it’s hard to imagine wanting to dance along to a song by The Smiths, the delightfully colourful riff in “This Charming Man” does just that. The introduction of the garage-punk guitar riff in “What Difference Does It Make?“, and the basic, yet hypnotising guitars in “Suffer Little Children” allow new moods to be created, in contrast to Morrissey’s rather monotonous signature vocal style. One point that must not fail to be mentioned is the attention to detail that is put into the music, which makes the album compelling on an entirely new level. As “Pretty Girls Make Graves” begins to come to an end, the band incorporate a fresh guitar line into the last 30 seconds of the song, which is so fluidly and effortlessly done.
Though I can find much praise for this one album, in both its concept and technicality, I can also understand how it can be considered boring on first listen, and tiresome after several listens. This debut is not one that is filled with exciting moments, but one that I consider as consistently thought provoking and graceful. It is most definitely the best way to be introduced to The Smiths, as it so perfectly epitomises all their signature styles.