The Smiths: Louder Than Bombs (1987)

Sorry, I'm just not a big Smiths fan. I realize this is blasphemy to many of my fellow music lovers. But as much as I like a lot of their songs, and the overall Johnny Marr guitar vibe, I rarely make it through an entire Smiths LP, finding most of the greatest hits collections out there are more than adequate. If pressed to pick a "proper" album, I fall back on Louder Than Bombs, which of course is NOT a proper album, but rather a somewhat haphazard collection of singles and b-sides and alternate versions; yet despite (or perhaps because of) its resulting lack of a cohesive sound, it's one of the few Smiths releases I enjoy from start to finish. Mostly.

Should I be apologizing for my lack of Smiths fealty? I'm not sure. But here's what I had to say about them in Jittery White Guy Music:

The one band that completely saturated the college airwaves while I was there, yet never really did it for me, was the Smiths. I recognize there is something sacrilegious in making this confession. Many in the DJ crowd, and, indeed, a lot of friends from other walks of life, hold the Smiths in the same esteem as I do R.E.M. If anything, the Smiths engender even greater attachment from their disciples, seemingly stable individuals nonetheless bowing at the church of Morrissey. My friend Tom from the station was deeply devoted to the band; another classmate and fellow DJ, who went on to become a professional journalist, went so far as to pen a book on Gen X culture in which he lionized the Smiths.
On paper, they check off a number of boxes that should work for me. Johnny Marr’s stylized jangly guitars are certainly winning, fitting in nicely alongside all those other guitar bands who held me in their sway. And there are plenty of compelling singles that latch onto you and found their way onto my radio shows and have been key ingredients of countless mixtapes over the years—“Girlfriend in a Coma” is a great song; “Ask” is a great song; “How Soon Is Now?” is obviously a great song. But I found that a little Morrissey went a long way. I respect him as a lyrical wunderkind who can lend a poetic voice to maudlin sentiments not found elsewhere, but maybe I just wasn’t mopey and maladjusted enough in college for this to gel for me.
Anyway, I just felt I should come clean about this.
 

Here's the video for "Ask":
...and "Panic":

 

Comments

  1. Humanfund here. In general I like when on the rare occasion you play devil's advocate, slaying a sacred indie cow (or at least tipping it).

    I won't get into their sound so much as its historical context.

    When their first singles and album came out in '83 and '84, the Smiths didn't sound like anything else, even Marr's jangly guitar had a fluidity and melodicism that was unique. I would even go so far as to say he made the guitar beautiful again.

    I grant Morrissey's style may not be everyone's cup of tea, but his hyper-literate and often sardonic lyrics were light years away from other 80s pop/new wave. A cup of Earl Grey indeed (indulge me) amidst the Bud light of Van Halen style hard rock or the recently soured vintage of post punk.

    I guess that was pretty heady stuff for a bookwormy teen marooned in coastal Southern California. Saw one of their last shows there in '87, got cut short when scores of kids rushed the stage during The Queen is Dead.

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    1. I have immense respect for the band for the reasons you state, and they're one of those bands that checks off so many boxes for me yet I still don't get the same joy from them that I should on paper (again, with the exception of the hour or so of highlights I've selected for myself).

      Or maybe it's just that they emerged at the same time as R.E.M. (they were in some ways the two leading lights during my 80s college radio days), and I went all in on R.E.M. (and their ilk), leaving little passion for the alternative.

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    2. Hmm, respect vs joy indeed. Bring 'em home to meet the parents but not to sleep with.

      Of course I am all in with REM, too, at least through Life's Rich Pageant.

      One salient difference between Smiths and REM is that over much the same time period the former's lyrics are much easier to understand, indeed are fairly in your face, compared to the latter.

      Or could it be not only lyrical salience as theme. Morrissey was much more comfortable being political than Stipe was, esp. early on.

      This could be off putting, perhaps?

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    3. So was that Smiths show you saw that got cut short at SDSU's Open Air Theater? I saw them there the first time they played that venue, during the Meat Is Murder tour. I remember some people dancing on stage, but no riot. I wasn't a Smiths fan at first. A friend loaned my a cassette of their first album and I returned it after one or two listens. It was mainly Morrissey's voice that prevented me from liking it. But eventually the Smiths garnered some more airplay and I guess I got used to the frontman's voice, because I found myself buying Hatful of Hollows and other early albums and singles. Heck, I even bought the first few Morrissey CDs, but I have almost zero interest in him now.

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    4. Was actually Irvine Meadows in '86, now that I think about it.

      I remember the whole experience being pretty nervy. People jumping the fence to get in free before the show. Somehow we arrived ticketless but just walked up to the box office and got orchestra seats. Late in the show people were getting on stage and Morrissey was encouraging them by yelling at security for being too rough. Finally there must have been about 75 people on stage, must have got too dangerous so they cancelled the rest of the show. I remember the chaos hitting a crescendo during The Queen is Dead.

      Wild nights like that were pretty rare for an OC kid. They also make the sureties of middle age more bearable.

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