Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: The Smiths, Singles

The Smiths were one of the most influential bands to come out of the UK in the 1980s.  In 1983 when they released their first single – “Hand in Glove”, the lead track smithson “Singles” –  the UK music scene was locked in the grip of synth driven new wave which had long since grown stale.  With deep roots in ’60s and ’70s pop the Smiths sound was fresh and their strong reliance on Johnny Marr’s carefully constructed guitar structures gave them a sound that had been absent in the UK for a long time.  “Hand in Glove” was a huge hit on the indie scene in the UK and the band took off and never looked back.  Today they are widely viewed as the band that launched the return of guitar based rock to the UK which culminated in (the very different sounding) Britpop scene of Oasis and Blur in the ’90s.

Marr and vocalist and co-songwriter Morrissey were the creative heart of the Smiths.  Marr was a master at writing pop songs that were cut like fine jewels, embedded in his layered guitar lines and polished to a brilliant sheen.  He essentially broke up the band in 1987 when he quit in frustration over what he saw as Morrissey’s rigid refusal to play anything other than the ’60s influenced pop which had made the band famous.  He joined Modest Mouse for last year’s “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank“, one of the best albums of the year thanks in no small part to his contributions. 

From the beginning Morrissey was a lightning rod for criticism due to his literate lyrics, outspoken opinions, and penchant for writing ambiguous songs that could be interpreted as supporting controversial viewpoints on a variety of topics.  He acquired a large and devoted following in both the UK and US and has had a career notable for music and controversy since the Smiths broke up.   His vocal style is swoony, dramatic, romantic and self-absorbed.  I’m thinking he’s an acquired taste that I haven’t acquired yet.  For me, the Smiths are of interest more for their elegant pop songs than for Smith’s vocals .

“Singles” is just what it’s name implies – a collection of eighteen of the band’s singles.  For a lot of bands this would result in a set that left out many of their best tunes but the Smiths specialized in singles and the set is an excellent collection of most of their best and most influential tunes.  For the most part, the songs are presented chronologically and it’s striking how the band continued to improve throughout its career.  They just got better right to the end.  Fans of the Smiths may well enjoy having all these singles on one handy disc.  Newcomers to the Smith’s music couldn’t have a better introduction to one of the most influential UK bands of the last thirty years.

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02/14/2008 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews

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