What is the strange musical organism that flourishes in the canals of Manchester? From Ian Curtis to the Gallaghers, the virus of musical talent seems to have been drunk from its waters by every generation. Thirty years after its first release, self-titled album The Smiths (1984) continues to infect listeners and musicians alike.
However, fans and critics have suggested that the album is far from the band’s best work. True, the raw beauty of Morrissey’s voice and Marr’s trademark ‘jangle’ are unjustifiably restrained. But if the listener is anywhere near being a ‘charming man’, they will have the nous to disregard these technical flaws and marvel in awe at the forms beneath.
From the simpering beauty of the album’s Delaney-inspired opener ‘Reel Around the Fountain’, to Morrissey’s mournful closing elegy to the victims of the Moors Murders ‘Suffer Little Children’, the album has few weaknesses.
I have spent hundreds of hours listening to Morrissey’s drawling warble as I writhe on the floor in a spasm of teenage angst. Thus, I can vouch for the power of the album and can stamp it with the teenage-gloomy-listener seal of approval.
You need not believe my own reactions in order to understand the album’s magnetic effect on listeners: it has provided consistent inspiration for The Smiths’ successors. Locally, it enthralled the Gallagher brothers, prompting them to produce their own brand of lyrical whining with Morrissey’s lyrics in mind. Bridging both time and distance, Arcade Fire’s admiration is flaunted in their cover of Smiths crowd-pleaser ‘Still Ill’.
The produce of a couple of local lads creating a racket in their bedrooms continues to charm. But why is this so? Morrissey and Marr’s style is the perfect mixture of creation and reinvention, poetically engraving the kitchen-sink drama of working class life onto the grooves of vinyl. T.S. Eliot (that well-known listener of The Smiths) remarked that a good poet makes the mundane “into something better”. What Morrissey and Marr achieved was to encapsulate familiar, normative life and transform it into something more appealing.
‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ is not entirely a realist self-indulgent mope – it is laced with a carry-on sense of humour. Arguably, it is the diversity of emotions that the album inspires that allows continued pleasure and interest.
Whatever the reason for the continued success of The Smiths, it carries an admirable legacy for an album whose final cut Morrissey said “wasn’t good enough”. Morrissey and Marr’s love-child may have aged thirty years, but its sound continues to inspire as it did upon its first release.
Click here for a review of Morrissey’s latest album.