Review Summary: What difference it did make…9 of 9 thought this review was well written
The Smiths changed modern music. Into the glamour obsessed, synth-clogged face of mid-80s English pop shot a Manchester band purposefully named with as mundane a title as possible, as if to contrast the yuppie Thatcherite surroundings before the jangly 60's inspired chords of Johnny Marr or the harsh romanticism of Morrissey’s lyrics, where yet to be heard.
They came, a gang of four, like a beam of enlightening warmth into the sparkly, detached coldness of the decade. Led by one of the most literate, controversial and utterly iconic frontmen ever to emerge, The Smiths shook up and stood out from their peers. Morrissey – a fey, eccentric loner, who seemed destined to drift towards a more literary career, frequently writing into NME’s letter section and operating the UK arm of his much appreciated New York Dolls fan club – wanted nothing to do with the conventions of life, and this naturally spread into his cutting lyrical work come the day Johnny Marr fatefully knocked upon his door.
Morrissey “never had a job” because he “never wanted one”. He didn’t want to settle down and become one half of the married couple whose photograph is perched atop the family television, nor did he want to be labelled as part of conventional sexuality, hinting at homosexuality in scathing, froth-mouthed songs like ‘Hand In Glove’ (“if the people stare, then the people stare”), and once calling himself “the prophet of the fourth sex” in interview. As the man himself ponders in the weary ‘Still Ill’, “does the mind rule the body or the body rule the mind?”.
Its lyrics like the ones Morrissey penned that were part of what made The Smiths so refreshing and so real. Morrissey’s words cut through the stylish bull***
of the 80's, turning the experience of many dissatisfied young men and women into something as anthemic and poetic as it was relatable and intimate. As stunning as his lines were, The Smiths wouldn’t be as utterly revered as they are if it weren’t for the vital musical counterpart led by Johnny Marr – truly one of England’s most remarkable guitarists.
On ‘This Charming Man’ Marr’s guitar flashes in in front of a superb rhythm section, as bright and uplifting as the arrival of morning sunshine after days of rainy misery, transforming a band who signed to an independent label and whose un-kitsch appearance contrasted with pop-norms - practically forging the notion of indie in the process – into a serious pop commodity. The storming, snarled jangle chords of follow-up single ‘What Difference Does It Make?’ fared even better; a true Smith classic with Morrissey wailing the song title, only to later conclude “it makes none”. This wasn’t normal, run-of-the-mill pop, it was something far more intriguing and off-kilter, it was indie-pop at its most stirring and enduring.
The Smiths were something fresh and different; informed by the past but not bound by it; of the times but truly lasting; pop but alternative. Arguments may be held that The Smiths released better records – albums with a cleaner production, or a matured band, but for this writer’s money, and putting aside their vital compilation efforts, The Smiths
packs the most punch. It’s the Mancunian foursomes’ rawest, purest edition – where they had no expectations placed upon them; before already big egos became inflated and inflated until breaking point; crafted before they became stars and Morrissey perhaps had a chance to lose touch with the angry bitterness of the plighted young man, or Marr had the opportunity to overindulge and drift away from the sharp, simple musical pleasures to be witnessed here. The Smiths
is simply one of the most vital and stunning debuts raised on English soil, and remains as such to this day.