The Smiths - Louder Than Bombs
Stephen Morrissey - Vocals
Johnny Marr - Guitars, Piano, Vamp, Mandolin, Harmonica, Harmonium
Andy Rourke - Bass, Cello
Mike Joyce - Drums
Craig Gannon - Additional guitars
All tracks recorded between 1983 and 1986.
This compilation released 1987.
#365 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums Ever.
Criminally overlooked in the US, The Smiths are quite simply one of the greatest British bands of all time. Most critics would place them alongside The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, and any number of other massively respected bands from our little island. That should give you some indication of what a pillar they are to British music. The band is essentially formed around the songwriting partnership of guitarist Johnny Marr - probably the best indie guitarist ever - and Morrissey. Both Marr's guitar and Morrissey's lyrics were stunningly inventive, and yet so subtle it's likely to pass you by on first listen. They are often given a reputation as a 'student band', and as being overly depressing and maudlin. Although that is true at times, the band are far more three-dimensional than that. They've been a huge influence on bands such as Radiohead, The Killers, Idlewild, The Ordinary Boys, Jeff Buckley, Deftones, Franz Ferdinand, Blur.....and pretty much every British indie band since. It seems their influence is just coming to fruit in the US, too - Andre 3000 is a huge fan.
And yet, they only recorded 4 albums proper during their tenure. They also released 2 compilation albums made up of singles, radio versions of songs, and out-takes - the legendary Hatful Of Hollow, and its companion The World Won't Listen. Both were only released in the UK, and so for the American market, they were mopped up into one 24-track album. That album was Louder Than Bombs. As such, this albumk features many often-overlooked Smiths gems that didn't find their way onto the main albums.
As this is, essentially, a compilation rather than an album, I feel it should be judged by its individual songs rather than its merits as a coherent album. Most of these songs were, after all, originally released as either singles or B-sides. So here's my first ever track-by-track review. Be warned....that's 24 tracks!
Is It Really So Strange? 5/5
Genius. It displays Morrissey's uniquely British sense of humour brilliantly. "You can break my face, but it won't change the way I feel." By the song's end, he's gone North, travelled South, got confused, killed a horse, and left his bag in Newport Pagnell. Unique. And very, very funny.
Sheila Take A Bow. 4/5
Nothing too special by The Smiths' standards, but still a very good song. It loses its effect on this album somewhat because it's sonically quite similar to Is It Really So Strange? Quite brilliantly, it contains an instruction to 'Boot the grime of this world in the crotch, dear.' It deals with teenage alienation, but in an jaunty, skewed way only The Smiths could.
Shoplifters Of The World Unite. 4/5
Still a staple of Morrissey's live sets. It tackles a key Morrissey theme of hooliganism and petty crime amongst Britain's working class (Morrissey was fascinated by skinhead culture). This song is more drum-driven than the previous two, but it still features some brilliant (if sparse) guitar from Marr.
Sweet And Tender Hooligan. 4/5
Shows The Smiths often-overlooked influence from punk bands of the 70s. Morrissey, in particular, loved the New York Dolls. This song doesn't sound much like a punk song, mainly because of Morrissey's accent and voice. Lyrically, however, it's very punk, dealing with a hooligan's trial for murder, which he claims was euthanasia. The drumming, which doesn't often stand out in Smiths songs, is very good here.
Half A Person. 5/5
The first ballad. It's an affecting one, but still one with a defeatist, woe-is-me humour to it. "If you have a few seconds to spare, I'll tell you the story of my life...." He tries to get a job at the YWCA as a back-scrubber. "Sixteen, clumsy, and shy, that's the story of my life...." Again, Morrissey proves himself an expert chronicler of teenage alienation.
Again shows the punk influence. Not one of the better Smiths songs - this is the first song here that actually feels like an outtake or B-side.
One of The Smiths' most loved songs. Lyrically, it bounces all over the place - literally. London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Dublin....it also contains this absolute lyrical gem - "Burn down the disco, hang the blessed DJ. Because the music that they constantly play, it says nothing to me about my life." Which I'm sure echoes the sentiments of several members of this site. It ends on a child's chorus of 'Hang the DJ'. This song has come into question amongst the media, who accussed it of being racist in the wake of later Morrissey songs such as Asian Rut and The National Front Disco. But the media are idiots, quite frankly.
Girl Afraid. 3/5
Sadly, it's fairly boring. The lyrics seem unusually uninspired for Morrissey, and Marr's backing isn't up to his usual standards either.
Shakespeares Sister. 3.5/5
One of a handful of Smiths song to end up being used as a band name. Like a lot of lyrics on this album, what is lost in coherence is made up for in sheer invention and charisma. "I thought that if you had an acoustic guitar, that it meant you were a protest singer. I can smile about it now, but at the time it was terrible...."
William, It Was Really Nothing. 4/5
A distant cousin of The Queen Is Dead's Cemetry Gates [sic]. This is one of The Smith's better known singles. Once again, the lyrics are excellent. Marr's backing is fairly understated - with a bit more punch, this song could easily have slipped onto The Queen Is Dead.
You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby. 4.5/5
A Smiths classic. Features some great guitar, Morrissey's trademark bouncing melodic improvising, and a cutting lyric that is very Smiths. The lyrics are a little repetitive though, which prevents this song getting the full 5.
Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now. 5/5
One of the highlights of the album. The title is an easy target for those who think The Smiths are too depressing, but how can you argue with a song that conatins a lyric like "In my life, why do I smile at people I'd much rather kick in the eye?" And, of course, "What she asked of me at the end of the day, Caligula would have blushed." Fantastic. There's some excellent calypso guitar fills from Marr, too, highlighting his amazing versatility and range of influences.
The peak in the album continues. This song is told from the point of view of a person asking their partner to stop being so shy, and just open up, because nothing bad will come of it. There's some nice female backing vocals, a great melody (though that goes without saying with The Smiths), and overall, this is probably the most touching song on the album. Key lyric - "If there's something you'd like to try, ask me, I won't say no. How could I?"
Golden Lights. 4/5
This is a real departure for The Smiths. It starts with a female singing, before Morrissey appears, singing through some kind of filter that produces a gargling-type noise. Again, a calypso feel runs throughout. It's about fame going a friend's head. It's a cover version, with some good lyrics that are almost a curio - they don't have the charismatic impact that Morrissey usually provides. It was described by a recent Q special as 'titanically awful', which is really very harsh. There's certainly worse stuff here.
Oscillate Wildly. 4/5
It's an instrumental, which you might think gets rid of The Smiths' greatest weapon. That's not the case though. It's a very good instrumental, showcasing Johnny Marr's talents as a multi-instrumentalist and arranger. It won't be the first song to come to your head when you discuss Smiths classics, but it's certainly one of those often-overlooked gems I discussed earlier. Good melody too - always key in instrumentals.
These Things Take Time. 5/5
Back to business as usual after those two departures. Bouncy music ties itself to lyrics that appear to deal with Morrissey's imposed celibacy - but then again, it also seems to deal with that recurring theme of being a teenager. Here, it's specifically coming to terms with feelings that you've never felt before. Probably the most under-rated Smiths song ever.
Rubber Ring. 3.5/5
A droning chorus and a ska-ish rhythm guitar mark this out from usual Smiths songs. It's usually singled out as one of the best songs on the album, but to be honest, I find it pretty average.
Back To The Old House. 3.5/5
The guitar's the star here, sounding like a power ballad given an indie makeover. The lyrics are adequate, but below par compared to the rest of the album. There's some nice operatic moaning though, and the lyrics seem to be a predecessor to Everything But The Girl's Missing You.
Hand In Glove. 5/5
Harmonica! The stop-start music is a joy, and the opening verse absolutely drips genius.
Hand in glove
The sun shines out of our behinds
No, it's not like any other love
This one is different - because it's us.
What I wouldn't give to be able to write something like that. It was their first ever single, too.
Stretch Out And Wait. 4/5
Spiritually related to These Things Take Time, but more sedate. Nothing too special, but nice enough.
Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want. 2.5/5
As far as I'm aware, this is The Smiths' most covered song; Muse and Deftones have done versions, to name but two. So it's fair to say it's got a bit of a following, but to be honest, I find the lyrics far too self-pitying. It's also under 1.50 in length. It's pleasant enough, but very over-rated.
This Night Has Opened My Eyes. 2.5/5
Bizarrely, this reminds me - musically - of UB40, though I can't think why. Morrissey sounds pretty flat here too. The lyrics are quite good, but you can't escape that this sounds too much like they didn't care about it.
I always feel, at this point in the album, they should have put a faster, more upbeat track, to break up the monotony a bit. But, much like Please....this is far too self-pitying. It's a shame, because the album is very good up until these tracks. Then again, that's often the problem with compilations put together by labels.
A piano-based balled. "Sing me to sleep, I'm tired and I want to go to bed." Quite possibly Morrissey's worst ever lyric. It's a shame the album has to end this way; anybody hearing these last 4 tracks alone would agree with the stereotypes often thrust upon The Smiths.
As you can see, there's a lot of stuff here that a Smiths fan should not go without. It's just a shame that the album lapses so badly towards the end, as it makes listening to it a very draining experience. By the end, you almost feel it's too much Smiths. Anyone could easily edit this album, remove the filler, and turn it into an absolutely fantastic compilation. Still, this, and Hatful Of Hollow, are the best Smiths compilations on the market - it's not a patch on those 4 albums, though.
As an album, 3.5/5.