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Friday, May 25, 2007

The Smiths - “Paint A Vulgar Picture”

posted by on May 25 at 15:35 PM


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.)

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this is the one track from the album i didn't bother to put into my itunes library. snzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.....

hmmmm.... maybe i'll take another listen.

i guess it's just a matter of perspective/taste (well duh, right? it's art...). but i always thought the lyrics were what totally sank this song. first of all, there's too many of them. and they're far too literal, no room for interpretation. i've always considered the obtuse to be morrissey's greatest lyrical strength (as in the deceptively simple lyrics of "some girls are bigger than others", which i consider to be among his finest).

but hey, just my opinion.

Posted by brandon | May 25, 2007 4:24 PM

This post must be sarcastic—PAVP is one of the Smiths' all-time worst songs. Ponderous, long-winded, clichéd, and hypocritical all at once. And now I can't get it out of my head, god damn you.

Posted by Shub-Negrorath | May 25, 2007 5:41 PM

Totally not sarcastic. I love this song.

Posted by Eric Grandy | May 25, 2007 7:10 PM

"Death of a Disco Dancer" = Smiths best song ever... also their most anomalous.

Posted by walt the glide frazier's haberdasher | May 25, 2007 8:46 PM

I also like that "Some Girls are Bigger" He also had another gem with "You're the one for me, Fatty."

'You're Arsenal' as a whole is an amazing album. Confirmed my belief that it is not impossible for a solo artist to break out from a great band.

Posted by bonehead's girlfriend | May 25, 2007 9:16 PM

The only time I've ever seemed to have heard/read the word "maudlin" is in association with The Smiths.

I loved this record when it came out, especially Death of a Disco Dancer.....but Girlfriend in a Coma is a masterpiece.

Posted by Sally Struthers Lawnchair | May 25, 2007 10:56 PM

This is way passed the
Smiths' peak. How Soon is Now? is the true album. I guess it was an export in the US because it's not listed on If you can't get that, the self-titled is who the Smiths were. Dark, lonely and depressing, and absolutely perfect for a 13-year-old boy. Hand in Glove and This Charming Man are true Smiths songs. If only Morrisey would perform these live.

The Queen is Dead was a pretty bad album, but Strangeways is an afterthought and probably just to fill a contract. Okay, but no where near their best.

Posted by vegetable lasagna | May 27, 2007 9:18 AM

I would argue that the possibly contract-filling nature of Strangeways only makes "Paint a Vulgar Picture" all the more poignant and meta-tastic.

Posted by Eric Grandy | May 27, 2007 1:37 PM

I guess it depends if you're a Smiths fan or a Moz fan. That album is really the first of Morrisey's solo career. The music industry sucks, wow, how insightful. I've never heard a song about that. Go listen to Still Ill or What Difference Does It Make. Those are Smiths songs.

Here's some highlights from (supporting my position, of course):

"Recorded as the relationship between Morrissey and Johnny Marr was beginning to splinter . . .

However, the songs also have a tendency to be glib and forced, particularly on "Unhappy Birthday" and the anti-record company "Paint a Vulgar Picture," which has grown increasingly ironic in the wake of the Smiths' and Morrissey's love of repackaging the same material in new compilations. Still, Strangeways is a graceful way to bow out. While it doesn't match The Queen Is Dead or The Smiths, it is far from embarrassing and offers a summation of the group's considerable strengths."

I'd say that's pretty generous. Morrisey was Lennon, and Moz was Yoko.

Posted by vegetable lasagna | May 27, 2007 4:57 PM
Morrisey was Lennon, and Moz was Yoko.

That's fucking brilliant.

Posted by Eric Grandy | May 27, 2007 8:46 PM

you guys overanalyze shit. its really simple. the smiths made good music. when you think of the 80s you think of the smiths. they were part of an era which will probably never happen again. the 80s were when gays were actually admired instead of hated. i mean straight guys actually TRIED to look gay to get fans to like them. its not like that anymore. Now i have to walk out of my house feeling like i am living amongst my fucking enemies. i have to keep a 38 under my car seat since i feel like i can be the victim of a hate crime anytime. in the 80s gays were ridiculed but did not have to fear being killed. not anymore. now it is kill or be killed. fuck al queda. we have more to fear from other americans than any foreign enemy. that is why i like the smiths...because they remind me of a time when i did not have to live like an animal being hunted.

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