Stop me, oh-oh-oh stop me; stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before. And I am not, of course, pretending that the following is original – my preschool musical wisdom comes about seventeen decades after initial acclaim; but the Smiths are a bit great. Like, more than a bit great. Though widely known of within the UK, many have relegated this Manchester-formed band to the pile of banal fogey-type indie rock. Today, they occasionally emerge from a dad/uncle/family friend’s pristine vinyl collection, as Maurice (or whoever) yodels on about misery for three minutes. Worse yet are groups of superkool, hip and trendy yoots, having recently discovered Vans and rollies, who ya know, just love the Smiths and proudly know (almost) all of the lyrics to ‘Cemetery Gates’. Hooray.
Perhaps I’m being unfair. Those more musically inclined almost certainly know a good selection of their iconic songs – think cheery and upbeat; think ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’! But even then the Smiths are viewed as a kind of musical prototype, a Ramones or Little Richard of post-industrial proportions. Respectable, but basically dismissed in the light of more modern alternatives. Don’t deny it, when was the last time you gave them a proper listen?
And so a vague fondness now surrounds the band. Forgotten is the fact that during the Smiths’ mere five year lifetime an incredible four studio albums, three compilation albums and numerous singles were released. Still more came out after their 1988 split. To put this in perspective, Beyoncé currently has four albums out after her decade-long solo career. Take that, 17-time-Grammy-award-winner-and-VH1’s-sexiest-musical-human-of-2013, with-your-feeble-shared-net-worth-of-$1 billion.
Likewise, though Morrissey and co. are yet to introduce successful fashion lines or marry hip-hop moguls, their influence on the 1990s Britpop movement (Blur, Suede etc.) is undeniable. Manchester artists like Oasis and the Stone Roses drew heavily from Mozza’s bleak, yearning style. Important too, was the Smiths’ rejection of contemporary music for a sound reminiscent of 1960s-70s rock and postpunk. More recently, in 2007, Q’s Simon Goddard described them as ‘the only true voice of the ‘80s’.
Part of this surely due to guitarist Johnny Marr’s incredible versatility. From grungy ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’ (I’m not even slightly joking), to the anthemic ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’ and ‘Half a Person’s wistfulness, there is a Smiths’ song for every mood… Provided that your mood semi-permanently oscillates between miserable and pensive. Okay, Morrissey’s lyrics may have the emotional maturity of a drunken birthday girl, sobbing wild confessions between swigs of gin…
‘I was looking for a job and then I found a job/And heaven knows I’m miserable now’
But there is a genuine sense of self-awareness to his melodrama, a propensity to personal mockery that pop indie is really missing at the moment. Yes, things feel shit. Yes, it’s your fault. On the plus side, all of your adolescent “problems” are as mundane as mine!
It’s the kind of sentiment that expresses a normality, boredom, nostalgia, and all of the other inadequacies that most yoots, superkool, hip and trendy ones included, tend to share in feeling. And frankly, Mr Shankly, there’s a certain charm to that.
Images compiled by Lori Anderson.