Review Summary: William, It Was Really Something...
As well constructed and flowing as The Smiths’ main studio LP’s were, one simply can’t deny that they also shone astoundingly bright as a singles group. The Mancunian foursome signed to Rough Trade, an indie label who gave them more than considerable reign over their commercial marketing plan, and as such, the boys were never forced to tack their big pop singles onto the front, middle, or end of any of their 4 studio albums. And for the most part, they didn’t – making the seemingly nonchalant releasing of Smiths compilation efforts, Hatful of Hallow
being one of such, more justified than it would seem upon the uneducated surface.
But Hatful of Hallow
is far more than a justified, collector’s aid to gathering the first batch of Smiths non-album singles and rarities; it’s essential, and more basely, thrilling. Where some would claim that their eponymous debut was held back slightly by, amongst other issues, a slightly inconsistent track list; Hatful of Hallow
naturally dodges such critical bullets by trimming that album’s set, cherry-picking the finest tunes and nestling them up alongside numerous fresh cuts, which were, at the time, only available as separate 7” and 12” singles, radio sessions, and such. Factor in the knowledge that many of the duplicate tracks which appeared on The Smiths arrive here as alternate editions, making for a slightly better deal for those who already own that album, and you have the groundwork of one of the most essential and exciting comps of the 1980’s.
None of this would matter if it weren’t for the exceptional songs packed into the generous 16 track selection, such as the uplifting, lightning speed single, ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’ – all sparkling riffery and a perfect put-down to all those who saw The Smiths as a miserable group, with Morrissey’s humour in full effect (“How can you stay with a fat girl who’ll say / oh if you like you can marry me / and if you like you can buy the ring / she doesn’t care about anything”). ‘How Soon is Now?’ is even more vital – a 7 minute epic, marked by tripped out flashes of Johnny Marr’s inimitable lead guitar hook, and the anthemic gloom of the chorus – “You shut your mouth / how can you say / I go about things the wrong way? / I am human and I need to be loved / Just like everybody else does”. Desperate yet somehow uplifting; anthemic yet still intimate; danceable pop yet alternative rock – it’s truly one of the finest Smiths compositions.
Another essential cut arrives with the sardonic ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’. Easily mocked by onlookers via its moaning title, the actual music making up the track is a kind of ironic, twisted beast, with its juxtaposing warm, tropical guitars and simple, rolling bass chords, which meld around Morrissey’s words adding another layer. Given the musical tone, is he being tongue in cheek or is he really that miserable after awakening from a drunken slumber, before which everything was fine for an hour? That’s the beauty and mysterious key to the iconic track. The set drifts into another premium slice of Smithery, with the tender and massively undervalued ‘This Night Has Opened My Eyes’. It features such a unique and delicate mood – one which, as Morrissey comes to colour in with his lyric, “I’m not happy and I’m not sad”; captures a mood of empty indifference so touchingly, and in both lyrical and music terms at that.
Then there’s the intimate and considered acoustics of ‘Back to the Old House’, and its more ballad-like and stronger counterpart, ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’; not to mention the narrowly less thrilling joys of ‘These Things Take Time’, ‘Girl Afraid’, ‘Accept Yourself’, and ‘Handsome Devil’, which features what has to be one of the strangest but most brilliant hooks in a pop song, ever – “oh please let me get my hands / on your mammary glands”. That track list would be worthy of purchase alone, but when alternate versions of The Smiths
finest tracks such as ‘This Charming Man’, ‘Still Ill’ and ‘What Difference Does It Make?’ are chucked in on top, it becomes utterly moronic not to invest, even for those who own the main studio LP’s.