Review by: Charly Saenz
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss
It ain’t hard to imagine what a good companion The Smiths were in the 80s for loners, living misfits, anxious undeveloped artists and chronic grouches. After all, that includes a great slice of This World’s population, probably yoursef, mate: think about it. Did I say eighties? Scratch that, some things never change.
And as I pick up this record and put it on the old turntable (a 1978 Pioneer, mind you) – I remember now those heart-wrenching lyrics by Paul Weller:
“Well she was the only girl I’ve ever loved
But my folks didn’t dig her so much
I was young
This is serious
To me she was the world
I thought I’d never live without her,
But I got by in time”
The thing is that The Jam delivered the drama with a pulsating beat, almost a dancing number. Complementary, perhaps like mixing strawberries and cheese (I saw Ratatouille).
That suggests me most of the early Smiths output, you have Morrissey and his subtle mumbling, holding a grudge against the world but in a casual manner: it will become either intense and invade you, and help you nurse that wound or keep you company while you pout; even make you smile when he decidedly becomes more acid: a voluntary retreat with a vengeance – and a low profile friend. Because unlike Weller, Moz wasn’t keen to conquer The World or alert the masses about the disgrace of being another corporate fish. Not that he couldn’t, he wouldn’t even try. The enemy was much closer, and had your own face. And your desire:
“All the streets are crammed with things
eager to be held
I know what hands are for
and I’d like to help myself”
Man, that was lusty. Are you hiding behind a bush somewhere? Well, you’re gonna do what’s necessary to make it to the next morning (“Everybody’s got to live their life/And God knows I’ve got to live mine”) and try to stay safe in your own little world (“Why do I give valuable time/To people who don’t care if I live or die?). Without a job or an intention to have it, just to live for the moment (“But I don’t want a lover/I just want to be seen…oh…in the back of your car”).
The sweet smell of surrender, without the pyschedelic spiders provided by Robert Smith.
And as that bouncy song by The Jam, the poetry pieces were surrounded by electric, sometimes repeating, other times jangling, compelling music. Johnny Marr and his crystal guitar; Andy Rourke and his funky bass. Great individual songs! Being this album a proper compilation (but a strange one, they’d only release one official album at the time), there was some interesting choices, BBC Recordings (God Bless them) and also a few singles.
You’ll see, a band only can be in the highest place of my ranking if they’re proficient in singles. And The Smiths are one of those (as are The Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who or The Jam). And you’ll get here some notorious A-Sides and B-Sides, like “William It Was Really Nothing”, with the classic Smiths sound (both joyful and sparkling, punctuated with a masterful bass) and Moz making the difference with a song about the little wonders of the suburbia.
I won’t mention each song here, most are classics. “How Soon Is Now”, with its psychedelic beat and a delight to dance alone in your dark room. Or “Girl Afraid” (Been there) and “Handsome Devil” with their great riffs. “These things take time”, almost a Classic Rock number, or the great “What Difference Does It Make”, with a full band, heavier, and its punching falsetto at the end. The beautiful melody of “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”. Or “Accept Yourself” with its pretty details, and even some Rush reference (Listen!) lost in the music. We’re all misfits, mate.
In the following years, The Smiths would become more aware about their own power, and would deliver definitive albums. But The Gospel is here, for the old fans, the new fans and everyone who’s girl afraid and ready to enjoy a sunny afternoon in their room or in the darkness, stalking some undecided lover. Well, we got our worthwhile gift too, as this boy “Vivid and in his prime”:
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the sacred wunderkind
You took me behind a dis-used railway line
And said “I know a place where we can go
Where we are not known”
And then you gave me something that I won’t forget too soon “