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Friday, April 20, 2012

Meet the Smiths!

Posted by on Fri, Apr 20, 2012 at 12:18 PM

The Smiths announced themselves with a blast of material that was almost uniformly brilliant, but so imperfectly produced and packaged it all remains a jumbled mess. The band's proper debut offered a flat mix and duller versions of songs that had been explosive live and in demo form. The release of Hatful of Hollow revealed some bracing alternate mixes alongside discarded b-sides that would've taken Rough Trade/Sire's The Smiths to a whole other level ("These Things Take Time," "Handsome Devil," "Jeane"). Truly, assembling the perfect-world version of the Smiths' debut is the closest I will ever get to playing fantasy football, and recently I found a fascinating new piece for this puzzle: The Troy Tate version of "The Hand the Rocks the Cradle."

First of all, this version slays the gray haze version that landed on record. Also, I love this song, because, along with a few others in the Smiths early repetoire, it casts Morrissey in a much different role than the Oscar Wilde-ing ham of "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" and beyond. It's a darker, creepier character—one that seems to have both survived child sexual abuse and now finds himself drawn to repeat it. "I once had a child and it saved my life, and I never even gave a name," intones Morrissey in the version above. "I just looked into his wondrous eyes and said never never never again." This is some serious early-Velvet Underground-y eroticizing-the-outsider shit, and it's all the more valuable because Morrissey soon left it behind for (highly rewarding) campiness.

The end, please go back to enjoying your lives.


Comments (7) RSS

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very bad homo 1
Jeane still breaks my heart.
Posted by very bad homo on April 20, 2012 at 1:52 PM · Report this
blip 2
Their first album is mostly forgettable save for a few stand out tracks, but "Girl Afraid" is my favorite from their early years.
Posted by blip on April 20, 2012 at 3:27 PM · Report this
David Schmader 3
"Girl Afraid"??? That's like saying your favorite ice cream is sherbet! THIS! CHARMING! MAN!
Posted by David Schmader on April 20, 2012 at 3:50 PM · Report this
blip 4
Oh hell no. I'm double-downing on this shit right here.

"This Charming Man" is a perfectly sensible choice but it's chocolate-vanilla swirl at best - you can always fall back on it in a pinch but why bother when you have a wider selection to choose from.

"Girl Afraid" bridges the gap between the unpolished immediacy of their early work and the slicker but moodier atmosphere of The Queen Is Dead. Johnny Marr's exquisite textures manage to retain their punch despite the unbearable weight of Morrissey's maudlin, self-loathing vocals, a balance that is often lost in their peak-era work.
Posted by blip on April 20, 2012 at 4:56 PM · Report this
blip 5
*make that 'doubling down'
Posted by blip on April 20, 2012 at 5:06 PM · Report this
David Schmader 6

Actually, my problem with "Girl Afraid" is the lyrics. Musically, it's impeccable. But the repetitive-except-for-genders lyrics seem like a toss-off compared the great literary works of Morrissey. ("Reel Around the Fountain," "What Diffference Does It Make?," "Hand in Glove," "These Things Take Time"...)
Posted by David Schmader on April 20, 2012 at 5:32 PM · Report this
Estey 7
David, I really appreciated this posting. I have been obsessed with the "original alternate" Smiths too -- the more arcane, amorphous, literary songs on the debut that addressed topics and ideas closer to Edward Gorey and the Velvet Underground than the post-Hatful of Hollow formalization of the band. The self-titled first LP is not my favorite album of theirs, but has a peculiar place in my heart, and I actually find myself going back to it more over the years than any other. (When it came out, I avoided it because I was more into the development of X, Husker Du, etc., and such and the American reviews made it sound musically weak and derivative. I'm still a little pissed critics swayed me from enjoying the nuanced, sublime pleasures of "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle," "I Don't Owe You Anything," and "Suffer Little Children"). So thanks for bringing this up. And I'm not criticizing what happened to The Smiths either -- we got The Queen Is Dead out of it, right? -- but the debut, even with its inconsistencies and false starts in certain directions seems like a cassette letter you'd get from a friend across the country in that time period, rambling on about this rare girl group 45 and that Midwestern fanzine obsessed with Ian Curtis and Frank Sinatra and these Motown LPs you bought for pocket change at the library sale and you almost kissed someone at the new wave show last weekend. As for my favorite song in this period, there is a near-feral intensity and rabid confessional genius to "What Difference Does It Make?" that has earned its place in the hearts of post-punks who don't even like The Smiths that much. With good reason, it rocks hard and wrong in all the best ways.
Posted by Estey on April 21, 2012 at 8:35 AM · Report this

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