Review Summary: For The Smiths, happiness does not come easily, but powerful, moving songwriting certainly does.
Sadness is a fundamental part of life. Some people are unable to live with it, but it's truly impossible to live without it. The Smiths bathe in their own pool of despondency as a result of heartbreak, hopelessness, and depression, but they channel their low spirits into something positive, something relatable. The band's uncompromising bluntness shines through on their first album, giving each song a tinge of honest disillusionment as well as vulnerability. It's fair to say that on this album The Smiths are paving their own road, attaching mild sorrow onto their music but mocking it as well.
One of The Smiths' crown jewels is Morrissey's witty lyricism. His words are enough to upset you and make you chuckle at the same time. On "You've Got Everything Now", he sings, "No I've never had a job because I've never wanted one." as he broods over the fact that he has been surpassed by those around him financially and socially. Despite Morrissey's tongue-in-cheek deliveries, his voice carries an air of exhaustion. Songs like "I Don't Owe You Anything" and "Reel Around the Fountain" really expose the nature of his tortured persona. When he sings, "I could have been wild and I could have been free, but nature played this trick on me" on the track "Pretty Girls Make Graves", all the regret and all the distress rises to the surface. What Morrissey pensively dwells upon is completely grounded in reality: low self-esteem, botched relationships, and unfulfilled dreams.
However, there is much more to The Smiths than Morrissey. Guitar virtuoso Johnny Marr has a tremendous influence on the band's sound, showcasing his remarkable aptitude for laying down superb guitar licks and melodies. The jangle of his guitar travels so unencumbered above the drums and bass to the point that it becomes the essence of the album's sonic field. His vibrant guitar-playing steals the show on tracks like "What Difference Does It Make?" and "Still Ill". On the concise gem "This Charming Man", Marr's guitar underscores Morrissey's strained vocals as he sings about the tribulations of social hierarchy. The Smiths
presents a steamy atmosphere, but it is far from domineering.
In fact, The Smiths are sometimes at their best when they are slowing the pace and adopting pure solemnity in their music. "Suffer Little Children" is inconceivably bleak, as the band throws out their sneering bitterness to deliver a quiet dirge. Lyrics like "Fresh lilaced moorland fields cannot hide the stolid stench of death" and "Oh John, you'll never be a man and you'll never see your home again" carry a degree of shock value and make the song all the more dreary and true to life. Despite some dark turns on the album, The Smiths stay true to their own unique assets and always seem willing to put themselves out there.
The album's production is minimalistic but fitting for The Smiths' alternative edge. Everything from the instruments to the vocals sound naked, capturing the fervent and unfiltered thoughts that materialize over the course of the record. Many of these thoughts are ones that would not normally be spoken of in public, but The Smiths treat this album like a private diary, filling it with overbearing emotions and musings. Images of a lonely man in Manchester haunted by his past are prevalent throughout this sincere stack of pleasant melodies and competent instrumentation. The songwriting here is tight but never stringent, cold but never high-handed. Instead, The Smiths seem content at the bottom; it's where their most moving ideas come from.
is deeper than it gives itself credit for. Morrissey's inventive lyricism and the ringing guitars give the band a distinctive influence over the terse stories they tell. With time, The Smiths
is an excellent grower album. On one listen you will find yourself deciphering Morrissey's amusing but poetic words, while on the next one you might be absorbing the proficient instrumentation that gives their music the necessary push. As far as debut albums go, it's hard to ask for more.
This Charming Man
You've Got Everything Now
Suffer Little Children
I Don't Owe You Anything
What Difference Does It Make?