Review Summary: I love the smell of The Smiths in the morning...
The Smiths proved three years earlier with Hatful of Hollow that their compilation albums could be just as vital and thrilling as their studio LP’s. To cut a long story short, 1987’s Louder Than Bombs proves to be another essential Smiths comp, collecting a cluster of non-album singles, B-sides and a few oddly placed older tracks in its generous 24-track runtime.
The set kicks off with the splendid ‘Is It Really So Strange"’ which grooves along radiantly before ‘Sheila Take A Bow’s grinding intro intrudes. What follows is one of the Smiths simplest pop gems, which remains optimistic and positive despite the pensive refrain “How can someone so young sing words so sad"”. The gender bending, delirious last minute closes a joyous romp in time for ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’. It’s one of the most notorious Smiths songs perhaps for its title alone, yet the actual product comes across less politically affecting than it does a slyly humorous mid tempo rocker. More powerful is the succeeding track, ‘Sweet and Tender Hooligan’, with Morrissey assuming the role of a sympathetic, criminal-fancier, pleading with the listener to not “blame the sweet and tender hooligan because he’ll never, never do it again”. Yet of course there’s more depth to Morrissey prose than that line alone, as it is capped off with “well not until the next time”, demonstrating the sarcasm of this rollicking number. Whether interpreted as a critique of the leniency of the law or a tongue in cheek ode to those who find dangerous individuals attractive, or both; the end result is fantastic.
There’s more Smiths gems buried on this album, including the tender, mellow ‘Half a Person”; the grinding, pseudo-punk ‘London’; the gorgeous pop of ‘Ask’; the rockabilly-esque tragedy ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’; the sour but optimistic ‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby’, and, the cherry atop this most delicious cake, ‘Panic’. ‘Panic’ deserves a special mention as it is simply one of the most propulsive, immediate and infectious pop tunes the Smiths ever wrote. As soon as its intro riff and pounding drums crash in the listener is hooked like a fish on a line. Morrissey’s vocals are confident and the band create such a lucid, bopping groove – by the time Moz has finished proclaiming “Hang the DJ!” and the track fades out one can’t help but reach for the repeat button.
The rest of the disc more or less hits somewhere in the middle as it regurgitates tracks which are available on earlier Smiths albums, and throws in some of the band’s weakest efforts (Oscillate Wildly, Golden Lights). But considering the wealth of hits that appear on this disc, some of which were only available as singles or B-Sides at the time, such small issues are ironed over neatly. The repetitive selections prove to be strong at least, and when the album closes with the nakedly sorrowful, tragic beauty of piano ballad ‘Asleep’ all is forgiven. Louder Than Bombs also turns out to be the stronger of the two 1987 compilations, as The World Won’t Listen is both shorter and weaker in its inclusion of non-album material, offering only ‘Money Changes Everything’ which this album misses. Quite simply, Louder Than Bombs hosts too many classics to be absent from any solid Smiths collection and proves to be a thrilling and essential album still today.