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I Just Don't Get...The Smiths

by John Clarke
23 November 2013 51 Comments

They are the darlings of a million indie fans across the land, but I despise the ground the fauning miserabilsts swan down. Here's why...

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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If you liked this, check these out

Why The Smiths Will Never Reform

Meetings With Morrissey

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image descriptionCOMMENTS

Carps 7:12 am, 28-Aug-2012

Well that's me convinced then. Easily the best constructed and original line of argument I've heard - enjoy The Cure as you leave the beach, you crazy diamond.

michael 9:54 am, 28-Aug-2012

Agreed 10:01 am, 28-Aug-2012

I bought Hatful Of Hollow in 1984 (for what reason I cannot now remember it wasn't foisted upon me by friends and to this day I've never allowed any music be foisted on me or otherwise) when I was 14 yrs old and that started my 'worship' of The Smiths. I'm 42 yrs old now and still feel the same about them. And I've listened to and appreciate a whole spectrum of other music that's been released since there formation and a lot released before that day too. I've never been a Veggie/Goth or Sensitive and have never sat alone in a bedroom analysing every last Smiths lyric for any meaning or relevance to my life. I've never taken any lead from NME (never used to read it when I was young, certainly don't now) or music industry hype. If I hear something and like it that's the only guidance I need. Just because The Smiths are one my all time favourites bands has never stopped me indulging and falling for all manner of other music.

robin lee 11:01 am, 28-Aug-2012


Tony Scott 11:31 am, 28-Aug-2012

Its the hardest game in the world to write about nothing convincingly!

Sir Edwin 11:59 am, 28-Aug-2012

Generally speaking, it helps to know something about a subject before publicly expressing your opinion on it. I hope that helps you with future writing John.

emmedit 12:10 pm, 28-Aug-2012

Point made, well. Apart from the overuse of the word 'twee'.

Markxist 12:15 pm, 28-Aug-2012

People who claim that The Smiths are miserablists are completely missing the point and the argument is void from there I'm afraid. Morrissey's lyrics are laugh out loud witty, Marr's guitar is playful. ' puerile: the worst kind of sixth-form-poetry doggerel' ?? What as opposed to 'Father, yes son, I want to kill you. Mother I want to f*ck you' Oh yeah, dead mature and profound that right?

Marky T 12:38 pm, 28-Aug-2012

Dear James Brown, you invented Attack on Bzag. Please stop this twat writing for you. (I hate the Smiths, but they were a long time ago).

fenceclimber 1:43 pm, 28-Aug-2012

Looking at his picture John looks like a Limp Bizkit fan. Which would explain a lot including why he just does not get irony.

robin lee 2:21 pm, 28-Aug-2012

'slap me on the patio' is a better line than anything Julian Cope, Robert Smith, Jim Morrison or Lou Reed ever come out with, except maybe 'She's busy sucking on my ding-dong' .......... if that isn't 'sixth-form-poetry doggerel' I dont know what is.....

daznez 3:03 pm, 28-Aug-2012

Quite surprised by the tameness of the flames tbh. I'm sure they'll follow. Funny actually, loved the Smiths at the time, still find the odd line bursting through to my consciousness nowadays and natch share it with the rest of my immediate world ( even in the supermarket - fuck the looks,) but never really followed Morrissey's solo career, or Johnny's for that matter. Don't get them? Loads do, so who cares? Next week: "Why I hate the Beatles?"

pyrtwist 3:55 pm, 28-Aug-2012

Nu Ordah!!! Never cared for Smiths either but will have a chance to heckle Mozz in October.

jimmy rustler 4:04 pm, 28-Aug-2012

have you even listened to there is a light that never goes out? i know its over? please please please let me get what i want? i want the one i cant have... simply sublime music and lyrics. everyone's entitled to an opinion though

fatherb 4:40 pm, 28-Aug-2012

I'm not sure I believe this article and pretty sure you have only written it in a sad attempt to become famous. By commenting on it I guess I'm helping you to achieve the infamy you obviously crave. Soaring guitars, insightful lyrics, melody...the Smiths brought 'real' music to the masses. There are few bands that can live in their company. They had few contemporaries operating at the same level at the time and from previous eras they deserve the same respect as the Beatles and Stones. What sort of music do you like Mr Clarke?

Bob 4:50 pm, 28-Aug-2012

We'd had Haircut 100, we'd had Hipsway, we needed something fresh, something new, we got The Smiths, and I hated them.....still do.

RDM75 5:19 pm, 28-Aug-2012

I have no great love for Morrissey or the Smiths...but using Jim Morrison and Lou Reed to make your argument as a shit lyricist? Oh dear!!! Two more pretentious twats you'd be troubled to find...

dastard 6:20 pm, 28-Aug-2012

I love The Smiths but it's fine if others don't.

Ian 6:44 pm, 28-Aug-2012

Timely, as I was just thinking this morning what a terrible puerile lyric this is: "Let me get my hands, on your mammary glands" (Handsome Devil). Great band though I think -- the last record (Strangeways) in particular is darker & dirtier, which helps with a band who could come across as effete. The live version of 'London' included on The Sound of The Smiths is really loud & dirty & angry, & not at all twee by numbers. Worth a listen / reappraisal. But fair enuff, if you don't dig 'em, you don't dig 'em man.

Johnny L 6:58 pm, 28-Aug-2012

Did you ever see them live John? I wasn't a fan, due to Morrissey's vocals - just not liking his voice no problem with his lyrics - getting on my tits. Saw them on The Queen Is Dead tour, blew me away. I still don't listen to the early stuff but Meat is Murder and The Queen Is Dead are something else. It's a zero sum game writing about something you don't like that many do. You set yourself to be shot at. The Edge - shite, Robert Smith - wishes he were in New Order to this day, students and street cred? I take it you went to college. I'm not a big fan of The Who, I like a few songs but I can take or leave them, loads of bands I like and mates I've been to gigs with adore them. They go over my head completely but there's no upside to writing about it.

Allmodcons1965 7:06 pm, 28-Aug-2012

Go and have a lie down John you cloth eared twat....

The Swearmeister 7:13 pm, 28-Aug-2012

Thank you. I always thought I was alone in my dislike for them. There is hope after all. "Music for the tone deaf"

mungo 7:18 pm, 28-Aug-2012

The Smiths had a couple of OK songs (how soon is now? maybe), but I can't stand Morrissey - he's a smug, unbearable, pretentious prick. Theirs was better than a lot of 80s music, but the lyrics just seem like self indulgent whining to me. Loads of my mates loved them (and still do), which baffles me to this day.

Nick 7:55 pm, 28-Aug-2012

Spot on, couldn't stand the cunts then and have never since heard an argument for them that resonated.

Plowers 8:40 pm, 28-Aug-2012

This is from the same writer who has argued on this site that Vanilla Ice doesn't get the respect he deserves. Think I will skip future articles.

Si Richardson 8:53 pm, 28-Aug-2012

Not so much a critique of The Smiths as a rant about Morrissey. Annoying fucker he undoubtedly is, as a lyricist he has few if any equals, ditto Marr's guitar playing. Love them or hate them arguably, no, THE most influential band of the 80's without question. If you want to criticize a band all well and good, but do your research properly. He never shoved daffodils up his arse. They were gladioli.

Mark Price 9:32 pm, 28-Aug-2012

shite then, shite now.

Mark Price 9:36 pm, 28-Aug-2012

Even worse, Miles Davis. Whats he all about then? Plain bollox.

daznez 10:34 pm, 28-Aug-2012

Yeah. And Jimi Hendrix. Fucking Rubbish. In fact while we're at it, never got that Bob Marley either. Or the Beatles. And Bob Dylan, shit voice. [sigh]

Truth 11:59 pm, 28-Aug-2012

"Maybe it was the obsessional worship of The Smiths, and Morrissey in particular, that really fuelled my fire" Other people like them, but Im different

Truth 12:08 am, 29-Aug-2012

Think why The Smiths are held as such an institution here is that they have such a subtle British sense of humour

Rodney 3:48 am, 30-Aug-2012

If they're good enough for Joey Barton....

Laura 10:38 pm, 30-Aug-2012

I am a new comer to The Smiths and I respectfully disagree - I mean look at him ...mmmm

daznez 12:37 pm, 31-Aug-2012

@Rodney, yes, captain of the whole world thanksforeverythingjoey.. @ Laura, sorry, think he's gay. but if you like that, you should try #Elvis

Ross Dick 7:31 pm, 3-Sep-2012

This sounds like a know it all don't he,why he feels the need write drivel is beyond me

Brian 2:10 pm, 4-Sep-2012

who cares what music you like or don't like. Are you interested in my musical tastes? No thought not. so give your hands a rest and do something constructive with your life or use the platfrom for something worthwhile. Somebody needs to take your laptop away. Stop wasting valuable bandwidth with this diarrhoea

cliff vicious 5:23 pm, 4-Sep-2012

It's 2012. Who cares?

Terry 5:59 am, 2-Oct-2012

A few solid songs and nothing more than that.No sense of melody,sixth form poetry and a truly terrible vocalist with a tendency to plagiarize the work of other far more talented writers(the only decent lyrics he ever put down on paper). That being said,Jim Morrison? That guy was as much of a talentless,pretentious hack that Morrissey is.

Paul 1:00 pm, 3-Aug-2013

I like the Smiths and their whiny, self-absorbed music, partly because it is so whiny and navel gazing. I detest the immature, nasty Morrissey, though, and his criticism of those who are so clearly his superiors on just about every level. Marr is only slightly better. Why don't you kind-hearted liberals actually pay the two other bandmates an equal share. What hypocrites! Still, I'll continue to listen to the music. I like to wallow in self-pity just as much as the next timid soul. I can separate the artist from the deeply flawed human being. The End

Paul 1:05 pm, 3-Aug-2013

And Terry, the Doors blow the Smiths away. Morrison wasn't a great lyricist but the music (and many of the lyrics) take one to an otherworldly realm as few groups ever have. OK, NOW The End

Blake Carrington 10:46 pm, 2-Sep-2013

Always had a sneaking admiration for The Smithses but their fanbase I found to be a bunch of overarching, pseudo-intellectual fuck knuckles. Very reminiscent of today's 1Directioners but with a bigger acne problem.

Scott 10:55 am, 5-Sep-2013

"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." - I laughed out loud at this, it actually sounds like a Morrissey lyric.

b 7:49 pm, 10-Oct-2013

I've measured it from side to side: 'Tis three feet long, and two feet wide.

sophia p 8:02 am, 14-Oct-2013

morrissey is joking most of the time in his lyrics? it's not supposed to be deep. no one thinks it is.

Bay 3:24 am, 1-Nov-2013

Exactly Sophia. I always thought the lyrics were well rooted in irony, self aware. It's not like no one ever said to him "don't you think it's a bit miserable?" He was well aware of what he was doing. That's actually one part of the smiths that I absolutely love, the irony of the lyrics and the comedy, it can really make me laugh how British and miserablist it is. But it's a thinly veiled in joke isn't it? If the irony of the smiths escapes you then I'm sorry, your sense of humour is a little different to mine.

dave 11:45 am, 23-Nov-2013

You're wrong, we're right.

fukoff 10:32 am, 14-Jan-2014

I never "got" the Smiths. If you call THAT rock 'n' roll, then that's some pretty weak shit. I see comments on here that Jim Morrison was just as "bad" as this Morrisey clown, as if to justify bad singing. The only problem with this argument is that Jim Morrison had a VOICE, a voice like Sinatra's, not that of a croaking turd...errr, toad like Morrisey. Smiths = shite. Never got into them, never saw the appeal. And their fans were kind of like people who went ape over pearl Jam but were cold on Nirvana. The Cure had everything the Smiths lacked...and more.

Jake 6:01 am, 7-May-2014

Well I suppose if you don't find dark humor hilarious, you're left to cup your hands with shite. Ignoring Johnny's jovial riffs to blandly bash on Morrisey won't get a dead horse hung. Dare I say, quote him? You're quite fixated on structure and status that I must conclude that you're jealous. I commend you however, on using your butt-hurt to make profit. That is what Morrissey apparently did, as well.

Steve 10:48 pm, 8-May-2014

This is just like saying: " The omelette would have been so much better without the egg."

Adahn 3:01 am, 22-Jun-2014

You have the audacity to praise Jim Morrison's lyrical ability while calling out Morrissey? Please, a lot of Morrison's lyrics were laughably bad, awful poetry.

jason 9:19 pm, 15-Jul-2014

I am in the US and never listened to or heard of the Smiths until modern times because of a local radio station's penchant for playing famous indie bands from days gone by. YES YES YES is all I can say to this article. It agrees exactly with my impression of them. They sound so amateurish and puerile. Morrisey's voice is worse than can be heard on any karoake night as well. The lyrics pretend to some sort of meaningfulness but lack the depth of insight that even a junior highschooler could present. I simply cannot understand the appeal of them whatsoever.

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