THE SMITHS – Hatful of Hollow (1984)

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 “

THE SMITHS – Meat Is Murder (1985)

Review by: Michael Strait
Album assigned by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez

I’ve nothing revolutionary to say about The Smiths. Have they ever made a bad album? Probably not. Have they ever even made an album that was anything less than great? Well, I don’t think so. Is this, nonetheless, probably their weakest? Yeah, I guess. “Meat Is Murder” is a bad song, after all, and that’s a rare thing to find on a Smiths album. I’ve no problem with Morrissey preaching his vegetarian beliefs – I’m no vegetarian myself, but if you believe you’re saving lives I think you’re entitled to act like it – but the song is just kinda dreary; it’s got a piano playing a fairly hackneyed, generic little line and some really corny bleating sheep samples here and there, and Morrissey’s really not making much sense. “Death for no reason is murder”? U wot, m8? Murder is the premeditated and unlawful taking of another life – “death for no reason” encompasses anything from manslaughter to death by misadventure. You sure you wanna go through with this line of reasoning, Moz? Was Princess Diana murdered, too? Ah, wait, don’t answer that…

Ehm, anyway, now that I’ve got the bad stuff out of the way I can focus on the cool shit. Firstly, Marr’s being his usual self on this album, which means his guitar not only sounds like it’s glowing but makes everything else on the album sound sorta like it’s glowing as well. He’s really good at weaving notes around all the other members of the band, placing them like candles in just the right places for maximum light coverage. He does it especially well on the penultimate track here, “Barbarism Begins At Home”, in which he and bassist Andy Rourke (their secret weapon) combine their powers to make this really nice interlocking groove that’s powerful enough to carry the song for near-on 7 minutes without changing or getting boring. Throw in some classic Morrissey social miserablism (this time it’s about the dangers of overzealous parental discipline) and you’ve got yerself a classic Smiths song.

There’s a bunch of those in here, actually. My favourite is probably “Nowhere Fast”, which contains one of the classic Morrissey verses (“and when I’m lying in my bed/ I think about life and I think about death/ and neither one particularly ap-peeeaaals to meeeee” – I mean, I know I can relate to that, I dunno about y’all) and a main riff that’s probably the clearest shoutout they ever did to the 60s pop they loved so much. It’s really catchy, really energetic and pretty much instantly memorable, and the same goes for “What She Said”, in which Marr’s guitar slides and falls about like an aeroplane caught in turbulence while Joyce’s drums hit that sweet spot between careful precision and rollicking intensity. I also really like “Rusholme Ruffians”, mostly for that awesome role-swap between Marr and Rourke; Marr’s acoustic on that song spends its time playing a fairly understated rhythm while Rourke’s bass takes up lead melodic duties, and Morrissey has some of his very best self-deprecating, society-deprecating humour here – what’s not to love?

On that front, there’s also “The Headmaster Ritual”, which has one of Marr’s most very gorgeous guitar lines backing up Morrissey as he rips apart his old school. “Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools/ spineless bastards all…” damn, Morrissey, you couldn’t possibly be bitter, could ya? I’m not gonna lie and say I can relate (I was a veritable teacher’s pet in school) but what’s important is that Morrissey makes me understand his bitterness perfectly, as if he’s baring his soul to me over a few drinks and with a few more exquisite metaphors than usual. Then there’s “I Want The One I Can’t Have”, which is an indispensable part of British rock’s longstanding tradition of class commentary. “A double bed/ and a stalwart lover for sure/ these are the riches of the poor”… it’s subtler than, say, “Shangri-La” or “Common People”, but no less effective for that.

There’s a couple nice slower moments, too. “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” and “Well I Wonder” are both acoustic ballads, though naturally they hardly sound like yer average acoustic ballad. Part of this is down to the production – the acoustic guitar on this album sounds weirdly thin and anemic, which would normally be a criticism but somehow isn’t here – but it’s also got a lot to do with The Smiths’ songwriting chops. The former has some lovely breaks in which Marr is allowed to lay down some gorgeous slices of guitar texture, and both of ‘em have these really pretty extended codas in which Morrissey retreats from the forefront and lets the instrumentation breathe. Relaxing, pleasant stuff, but there’s also enough going on to hold one’s interest if one is paying attention.

Man, I’m sorry for being so boring – I’ve nary a bad thing to say about this record. But hey, what can I say? It’s earned my praise. The Smiths were an almost frighteningly good band, and this, except for the title track, is them at their best – because they were almost never not at their best. Just get their whole discography and be done with it.