BSE (TW) The Smiths - “Paint A Vulgar Picture”
posted by May 25 at 15:35 PMon
Trying to pick a favorite Smiths song is pretty much impossible, so the whole (This Week) caveat to our Best Song Ever category is a lifesaver. (This Week) the best Smiths song, and indeed Best Song Ever, is “Paint a Vulgar Picture” from the band’s final album, Strangeways, Here We Come.
Musically, it’s maybe not the Smiths’ most adventurous or groundbreaking song, but it has its moments. The lone hand clap and guitar solo after the first mention of “those ugly new houses” is gorgeous and every bit as evocative of that place/state of mind as are Morrissey’s lyrics. The drums—restrained as always with the Smiths—are just right, and Andy Rourke’s (underrated) bass is rubbery and agile. Johnny Marr’s guitar work is simple and elegant, bright and jangly as always.
Lyrically, though, the song is genius, a bittersweet rumination on the nature of pop stardom/fandom. This song was my first encounter with the concepts of “meta” and lyrical self-reference (“if it fails to recoup well then maybe/you just haven’t earned it yet, baby”), and was quite possibly the first time I’d ever heard someone say (let alone sing) the word “sycophantic.” There’s something great about how Morrissey subtly switches roles from naive fan to knowing pop star to fly on the wall at the “record company party” from one verse to the next. The line, “So in my bedroom in those ugly new houses I danced my legs down to the knees” has to be the most heartbreaking examination of lonely music geekery I’ve ever heard, expressing the kind of impossible longing that only a fan-club president can really appreciate. “Me and my true love will never meet again” is Moz at his wonderfully maudlin, eternally teenage romantic best.
Best. Song. Ever. (This Week.)