Now, let’s get this straight - The Smiths could have been awesome. Johnny Marr, alongside The Edge and a few other contemporaries, re-wrote the guitar rulebook, bashing out lead, melody and rhythm at the same time. Not a bad trick if you can carry it off. The band’s rhythm section was also ace, with Joyce and Rourke the real driving force behind the likes of This Charming Man and Girlfriend in a Coma. Yes, The Smiths could have been wonderful – all they needed was a proper singer. Instead they had a pretentious whiner whose attempts at reinventing crooning would normally be laughed out of everywhere from recording studios to the most low-rent karaoke bars. In fact, Stephen Patrick Morrissey can confidently lay claim to both the most annoying voice and the most embarrassing lyrics in rock history.
So why not just go for Morrissey and leave the other Smiths alone? Well, that would to be to play down the years of disgust, bafflement and cringing they caused as they were foisted on me by endless friends: otherwise tasteful, intelligent people who were listening to mostly the same stuff as me. I just didn’t get it - how could someone listen to a Julian Cope or Robert Smith lyric and still be taken in by this stupid-acting-smart drivel? How could they hear Jim Morrison or Lou Reed excavating the nether regions of the soul and be equally impressed by a vacuous nerd going “fa-la-la” and warbling on about nothing in particular? The loathing of Morrissey was bad, but the anger and disbelief that so many could be so easily conned burned hotter.
he rams twee little ideas into a couple of dozen lines that allude to something but, when actually studied, amount to approximately fuck all
Maybe it was the obsessional worship of The Smiths, and Morrissey in particular, that really fuelled my fire. Music industry hype, particularly when unmerited as far as I can see, has always stuck in my craw. When I see a huge wave of hype approaching, I refuse to jump on a surfboard and go along for the ride. No – my natural reaction is to pick up my towel, leave the beach with my headphones turned up full and sit in the car park scowling until it’s all gone away. Nobody in music history has been more over-hyped than this lot. And why? Largely because Morrissey is a ‘lyrical genius’. Laugh? I had to scoop my innards off the floor. Morrissey’s lyrics aren’t profound - they’re puerile: the worst kind of sixth-form-poetry doggerel you could imagine, switching between ‘I’m so sensitive and different that nobody understands me’ and whimsical little stories about mildly quirky situations that would have been shit novels if Mozza had the intellect or discipline to actually tell a full story. Instead, he rams twee little ideas into a couple of dozen lines that allude to something but, when actually studied, amount to approximately fuck all. We all wrote stuff like that when we were 16, but the rest of us had the common decency to look at it again the next day and put it in the bin where it belonged.
Yes, the sensitive kids need something to relate to but that’s what Goth’s there for isn’t it? If you want miserablist, go to the professionals. There are plenty of bands that do that stuff for a living, so why take half-measures? And if you want wry, sardonic anecdotes that aren’t quite sure whether they’re taking the piss or not, ask your dad for a copy of his Warren Zevon albums and see how it’s really done. Or you could put on The Smiths and contemplate killing yourself at the emptiness of the world as they go, “big mouth la-la-la, ha ha” and “I was looking for a job and I found a job.” It’s not exactly Wordsworth is it?
For all that I’ve praised the contribution of the remaining Smiths so far, they’re not getting off scot free. They all played their part in creating a sound that was horrendously stylised: just ‘alternative’ enough to establish their street-cred with the students while making absolutely sure they put in enough hooks to ensure a respectable chart position and a good fiscal return. Their contrived twee aesthetic also set a precedent for what would follow and they’re at least partially to blame for many of the wankiest moments in rock since. From the self-conscious smart-arsery of Jarvis to the insipid geek-chic of Belle & Sebastian, they have a lot to answer for.
Style over substance. Twee by numbers. Even writing this article has filled me rage anew, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t gel up my quiff and shove daffodils up my arse. I just don’t get it.
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