The Smiths – The Smiths (1984)

Luc Ramshaw

Music Business Student Bristol University, aged 19

In terms of first impressions, this album didn’t do much for me with the first two tracks ‘Reel around the fountain’ and ‘You’ve got everything now’ which sounded just as dull and similar as I expected from the smiths. The Droning voice of Morrissey had already become jarring to me going into the third track of the album ‘Miserable lie’ which then changed my opinion drastically. The into was same old Morrissey droning on depressingly with the usual melody and sound that the band provides, until 55 seconds in, the song picks up the pace and builds in tempo with amazing drum work from Mike Joyce and a change in pitch from Morrissey, adding a genuinely interesting sound which took me by surprise.

The next two tracks felt like I’d just restarted the album and my opinion on the Smith’s music fell back down to the ground, thinking that ‘Miserable lie’ would be a needle in a haystack and the only stand-out song of the album. That didn’t last a second after the end of the 5th song as I was thrown into the classic ‘This charming man’. It may be the influence of social media, having heard this song (one of their most popular) before, but I couldn’t deny the catchy chorus and distinguishable chords that create this absolute belter! 

The rest of the album flew by with no more notably great tracks and my opinion of the smiths hasn’t changed much but the two most notable songs ‘Miserable lie’ and ‘This charming man’ have found a space in my playlists. Overall, I believe the album lacks diversity and excitement, but does maintain a distinguishable sound which is true to the band. 5/10 for me.

Will Brooker

Professor of Film and Cultural Studies, Kingston University, aged 53

I discovered the Smiths through mix-tapes, and so I think of their work in terms of songs, rather than albums. Each track now tugs with it a wave of hazy, fragmented memories: a brief stretch of time in the late 80s, between work and college, with doors and windows open to the summer air and nothing to do but read, write and listen to LPs. 

Revisiting the Smiths’ debut now is a surprise: did they really open with the haunting ‘Reel Around the Fountain’, its uneasy masochism spliced with quotes from British kitchen sink drama? Did they really follow up with the jaunty observation that ‘Pretty Girls Make Graves’, offer dour invitations to ‘climb upon my knee, Sonny Boy’, and conclude with a mournful anthem to child-murderer Myra Hindley? Times have changed: maybe it’s the image of Morrissey now, a sweaty, stocky, boorish old bigot, but some of the charm has been lost.

Johnny Marr’s guitar is nimble and delicate, cutting through the foghorn drone and warble (and the thin, awful falsetto) of Morrissey’s voice. The drums are tight, the basslines tough and muscular. There’s a rough, exciting energy to the recording throughout, but I found it becoming repetitive: again this stripped down sound, the brittle percussion and the yodelling over jangly guitar? Only the intro and outro of ‘Still Ill’ hint at more exciting arrangements. The word ‘dirge’ occasionally came to mind, and I felt disloyal to the band I’d loved.

The memories remain. But as Morrissey admits on ‘Still Ill’, it just wasn’t like the old days anymore.

Kingston link:

 The Smiths played at Kingston Polytechnic in October 1983.

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