1984:

January-February

The Smiths sign autographs backstage at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, February 14, 1984. Photo courtesy of Paul Slattery


DJ 'PICK'

This brief item originally appeared in the December 31, 1983 issue of Daily Mirror. DJ David Jensen presents his 'Red Hot Tips for 1984'; among them is The Smiths. Please note that the original printed text is not currently available.

The Smiths are my favourite group of the moment. I was delighted to see "This Charming Man" crack the charts. This Manchester four-piece fronted by singer Morrissey, have the necessary live power and strong material to win through.

The only problem the Smiths may encounter is financial. They refuse to compromise their integrity by signing with a major record company.

The limited budget available to independent company Rough Trade may prevent Morrissey and his group hitting the top.

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INTERVIEW

This interview originally appeared in the January 8, 1984 issue of The Sunday Times.

The hits and myths of
The Smiths

With the success of their last single, The Smiths are becoming a commonplace name. They have a new record out this week, so Jon Savage set out to discover what's so special about this group

These are exciting times for the Smiths. A top 20 record with only their second single, ‘This Charming Man’; a non-stop stream of interviews that have confirmed their status as music press darlings of the year; frequent television appearances, including Top of the Pops and an Old Grey Whistle Test Special; and now a chance even to produce a personal icon, Sandie Shaw, singing one of their songs ‘I Don’t Owe You Anything’.

All this from a group that live in Manchester, don’t pretend to be soul boys, record for an independent label, Rough Trade, use conventional instrumentation and have been together for less than a year. Next week, they release their third single, ‘What Difference Does It Make?’, with an album on the way. What is their particular magic ingredient?

"Writing, as far as I’m concerned, is a human necessity – like having to brush your teeth. It’s really that simple."

Singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr sit quietly in a corner of the Studio and talk with a firm confidence which might seem overbearing if it wasn’t tempered by bitter experience and a hint of self-mockery.

"The long period of isolation I had meant a very long period of self-development. If you’re going to produce something of value, you have to think about what you’re doing — you can’t dive into it — and I gained a lot from being isolated. If I’d had the usual uncomplicated adolescence I wouldn’t be here now, writing. It’s odd how terrible things can be part of a learning process."

The Smiths can be seen as a supreme effort of will: emerging out of the grey, deadening anonymity of Manchester with a passionate vision of the way things should be. The immediate sign of this lies in their image: in contrast to the norm, they present themselves neither as androgynous soul kittens nor as carefully constructed teen idols, but in a typical move will regularly bombard their audience with gladioli or other exotic flowers. Further, their current single sleeve reproduces the famous still from Cocteau’s Orphée, with Jean Marais gazing into his own reflection. It could all be very precious, but Morrissey insists that this iconography is carefully worked out.

"They’re two very nice symbols to be attached to. We’re interested in beauty because it can be very positive. It’s good to be associated with non-violent things; we’d rather it was Cocteau instead of broken bottles, or any other kind of garishness."

Marr: "We’re humane people. But if you are humane, people tend to think you’re weak. We’re aggressive about things we feel strongly about, but the reason we’re friends is that we are humane. That sleeve and the flowers explain how we are as people: it’s depressing when people call us hippies, because we’re not. We’re just trying to come up with a fresh approach."

Morrissey: "Iron Maiden or Saxon are never asked why they’re here. If you show any signs of intellect, you’re asked loads of questions, why this is like that and so on, and you’re made to sound insane."

The Smiths’ approach, and the central thrust of many of their songs, have provided worse misunderstandings than simply being labelled hippies. In the summer, the B side of their first single, ‘Handsome Devil’, caught the tail end of a moral panic about paedophilia and was ‘exposed’ in the tabloids. This was absurd, but the Smiths’ lyrics, written by Morrissey, express an ambiguous and complex attitude towards sex, admitting a vulnerability rare in these days of simple, idealized love codes. But while it may have got them into trouble, in the long run it is the backbone on which their success is based.

Morrissey explains: "Many people who go into this business think that they have to have a very aggressive machismo or a very aggressive stage image. It’s time for a different version: not everybody is like Ozzy Osbourne. The normal rock ‘n’ roll terminology sounds like a chant of agony."

Marr: "The lyrics about sex — 'Handsome Devil', 'Pretty Girls Make Graves' and 'These Things Take Time' — deal with sex in three completely different ways. One might say it’s great in an ideal situation, but another might be saying, Oh no! I can’t handle this! Morrissey does have sexual politics and they inform what we do."

And Morrissey sighs: "I think we need more brains in popular music."

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See the original (abridged) article here


SINGLE REVIEWS

WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? - released January 1984

 
Click to enlarge

"They're no fluke but hold hard. This is no "Charming Man", no not even his shadow. What we have here is our man Morrissey harking back to look forward and coming up with something not a million leg-pulls away from an earlyish Jethro Tull B-side.

The difference between "What Difference..." and "This Charming Man" is, in fact, charm. It lacks it, spectacularly substituting a rocking pace for its predecessor's lilting melancholy. Morrissey has trouble making his words scan the lines, his big ideas scurry around for one little tune; a clumsy trait that is bound to be touted as his trademark. Sloth posing as innovation? Too early to tell but right now The Smiths' nearest allies are Aztec Camera in that they're both Nick Heyward nicely out of tune. But is "What Difference..." any good? I'm undecided - I just wish it was great and it isn't."

Steve Sutherland
Melody Maker, January 21, 1984

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"What difference do The Smiths make? Not a lot, but this ringing resurrection of a thinly disguised old R&B riff is ethereally addictive.

The first Eighties band to be sponsored by Interflora, the Smiths are the musical equivalent of cling-film - suffocating and skin-tight but thoroughly see-through.

They're nothing special, but this'll be a minor hit nevertheless, especially with the Polydor sales force behind it, and I can't wait for the Sandie Shaw team-up. Puppet on a string, anyone?"

Unknown reviewer

The source of this review is unknown.

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"I don't go much on Morrissey's mob meself, but this little tune seems to spiral its way into the innermost regions of the memory cells quite nicely. Dazzling jangly noises pretend to be guitars and Morrissey moans his way through tired apologies that the song isn't quite as good as he'd like to think it is."

Unknown Reviewer
Rip It Up, January 1984

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"Not so good as 'Charming Man' say some, but I'd say better. A wailing, wordless hook from your man Morrissey hovers ghost-like over a rubbery rockabilly beat, not marred one bit by Johnny Guitar Marr's springheeled periphery riffery. And the lyrics cut you, too. Perfect in its detente of tough and tender... Give these men a big, big hit."

Paul Du Noyer
New Musical Express, January 21, 1984

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SEE ALSO: Lookalikes Cornered


Morrissey on...

Making It

"It's really curious once you come into this business suddenly there's loads of people saying this is what you should do and you shouldn't do that and you shouldn't dream of wearing that. It's really funny how when you're really struggling no one cares, but suddenly there's a thousand voices coming towards you, people feeling that you need some kind of direction and instruction. It confuses me, because if we weren't the strong people that we are, we wouldn't have formed the group in the first place."

- New Musical Express, February 4, 1984

To read this interview in full, see 'These Disarming Men' in Appendix E


ARTICLE

This article was originally published in the February 11, 1984 issue of Record Mirror.

Morrissey dancing

 

by Andy Strikes

The Smiths have well and truly arrived, folks. With 'What Difference Does It Make' nestling comfortably in the upper echelons of the charts, we now have conclusive proof that The Smiths are not one hit wonders nor pretenders to the latest guitar band in town crown. They are arrogant, infuriating, blindly confident and they make records bordering on brilliance.
Strike Towers has been reverberating with Morrissey's primitive crooning and Johnny Marr's precise guitar workings since 'Hand In Glove' appeared last summer. The rest of you have taken a little longer to hear the message, but now you too have been swept away by these charming men.
Morrissey is glad that we're all finally caught up with The Smiths. He knew we would, that it was all a matter of time and he's enjoying our company.
"For me, it's actually quite stunning to meet people who want to talk to me," he says over a cup of tea in his new London flat. "Of course, it's a terribly natural situation and it's really an endless pleasure."
Success has changed Morrissey's life considerably. He can now eat and dress well, but he has also had to leave his beloved Manchester, including the other Smiths, behind. Living in London is a necessity in Morrissey's eyes. There are people he needs to 'keep an eye on' if The Smiths are to tread the path he has laid down in his mind.
The 'biz' has little time for outspoken upstarts. After all, a buck is a buck and as an example of this, Morrissey expresses The Smiths' disgust at the 'New York Mix' of 'This Charming Man' which meant that no less than three versions of the song were on sale.
"I'm still very upset about that," he says firmly. "It was entirely against our principles, the whole thing, it didn't seem to belong with us. There was even a question of a fourth version which would have bordered on pantomime. It was called the Acton version, which isn't even funny."

With the other Smiths still in Manchester, isn't there a danger that their ideas and aims may begin to depart from Morrissey's own? Is it possible to plot the career of a new band when the singer lives two hundred miles away from his fellows?
"Well, we're in daily contact," Morrissey assures me. "But I don't feel I have to gaze at their profiles or anything. They do get a bit jealous sometimes, and I won't deny that they're not ecstatic when yet another interview with me appears."
Apart from the music press clambering over each other to get to Morrissey's door, The Smiths had built up a large live following long before 'This Charming Man' hit the charts. This has meant that Morrissey can practise at his great ambition - to be a sex symbol. How's it going, I ask?
"I don't think I am a sex symbol actually, which is a great worry when one's picture appears in the music press," he laughs. "People generally bring me their problems as opposed to wanting to molest me, which of course is terribly distressing. People tend to see me as someone with a great deal of answers rather than as a sex symbol, so I'll have to work on that one a bit longer."
Morrissey as an agony uncle! The mind boggles.
"I know," he laughs, "It's very strange but I seem to be a parental figure which is completely distressing when one is twenty four years old and one is approached by people who are twenty six. It's quite amusing really, but I don't want to give any more advice on spots."
The Smiths set themselves apart from their contemporaries from the start, refusing a support slot with The Police because they were 'more important than The Police will ever be', and generally slagging off anything that made a noise. Several TV appearances later, with two hit singles and more interviews under his belt than Len Fairclough, I ask Morrissey if The Smiths can still be different, subversive to the pop machine.
"I think something still separates us from the rest of the clatter," he sighs. "Where words are concerned, I try to use lines that have not been used in the history of popular music before, and for that reason alone it should separate us. I think our audience recognise that we are different. I'm convinced people know exactly what I'm talking about, they do think we are special and I wouldn't say that if I didn't think it was true."

More arrogance from the man Morrissey? Perhaps. He's well aware of his reputation for lacking in modesty, but doesn't intend to change his ways.
"It's not really arrogance," he pleads, "If you're not dramatically shy in this business, you're an overbearing bore. It's all quite confusing. I feel that if you have something the world could benefit from, then you should put it in the front window with a red light above it."
He's quite right, of course. His stance comes simply from having an incredible confidence in The Smiths. Why beat about the bush when you know you are creating 'quite hysterically profound music' and re-writing the rock vocabulary?
Morrissey is well aware that The Smiths have had more than their fair share of media hysteria, and that it won't last forever. You can almost feel the backlash coming, perhaps with the imminent release of The Smiths' debut album, called 'The Smiths'. What else?
However, Morrissey is convinced that the band has the strength of character to survive the attack.
Morrissey tells me how he has stopped worrying about the future of The Smiths, and his willingness to 'swim in the praise' he currently enjoys. He is not complacent.
"When people see us as simply grinding out sausages as it were, we'll have the sense to take a swift exit. I don't want to bore people, so if I thought The Smiths were an absolute hindrance to the human race then we'd break up."
Morrissey won't crack up when his beloved Smiths have run their course. He has literary ambitions, including a screen play.
"There's a lot I want to do," he tells me. "It doesn't all end with my thrusting a gladioli under Richard Skinner's nose. There's a lot I want to achieve, most of which is illegal."
Morrissey is a witty young man, possibly due to his passion for Oscar Wilde, a man who would surely have formed The Smiths himself had he been born in the nineteen sixties. Most of Morrissey's claims and dreams are relayed with his tongue firmly in his cheek. You can't take the man at face value, but you can listen to The Smiths' music, proof enough of their exceptional talents.
I for one can't wait to hear the album, though I'll be among the first to complain if The Smiths let us down. Morrissey doesn't see much chance of that, as he explains.
"I really do expect the highest critical praise for the album," he says calmly. "I think it's a complete signal post in the history of popular music."
We shall see, my friends, we shall see.

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See the original article here

Read Record Mirror's verdict on the debut LP here


ALBUM REVIEWS 

 THE SMITHS - released February 1984


 Gladioli All Over

"And if you must go to work tomorrow
Well, if I were you I wouldn't bother'
('Still Ill')

Without being perjorative, there is something soporific about the sound of The Smiths. It's so easy to lapse into their languid dreams without stopping to question where precisely this man Morrissey should be placed in the infinite space between heaven and pillow.

Just how clinical and how innocent is this seducer of our imaginations? How genuine his successive (and often mutually exclusive) stances as corrupted and corruptor, reformed literary libertine and celibate gay bachelor? After contemplation of his flamboyant advances I've arrived at no conclusion as to what precisely he bears before him or what exactly he is after. What remains at the core of Morrissey's art is a mystique that has so far proved impenetrable - he affords the odd insight, but there is never enough glimpsed to dispel his fascination.

Consideration of The Smiths always ends up as attempted penetration of Morrissey's singular charms, primarily because The Smiths in plural are as average as their uncharismatic name suggests. Where Morrissey is a wielder of the archaic art of the word, his cohorts are merely competent workers in the grimy craft of pop. Musically The Smiths are little more than mildly regressive. What saves them is Morrissey's rare grasp of the myriad distortions of the pastel worlds of nostalgia. Much of the intrigue behind The Smiths is not what they have to offer but the seductive manner in which Morrissey offers it - his beguiling invitation to forget art and dance in a notion of animated camp. At this point we come to his enigma - of the uncalculated versus the contrived.

This has its opening in the cold quivering reflections of the plaintive epic of 'Reel Around the Fountain' - a picture of virtual classical proportions, with Morrissey's world weary tones washing a grey tale of innocence lost. 'It's time the tale were told,' he opens, 'Of how you took a child/And you made him old' - you have to rouse yourself from the pleasant malaise that the lazy pace induces to recall that, at the end of the song, nothing of 'the tale' has actually been revealed.

Throughout the LP he captures a set of fascinations that appeal to the current mood - the only question is how many of them are indeed his own and how many the result of long years' research in a rented room in Whalley Range. Too frequently his philosophy of pop seems all too neatly prepared to appeal - the quaint campaign against the synthesiser for example. The mass appeal lies (unfortunately) in a form of traditionalism - so Morrissey offers the fictional tradition of 'great pop' - complete this sentence in six letters. The Buzzcocks, Orange Juice, The.......

Calculation, though, can offer an aesthetic of its own and The Smiths, like Culture Club, weave an intricate web of insignia, delightful in its diversity, intriguing in its attention to detail, but finally impenetrable.

From the sexy male cover to 'Hand in Glove' Morrissey has proved himself adept at the gender identity game - another tradition of longstanding appeal. Throughout the LP he plucks at the same strings of homoeroticism: 'I'm not the man you think I am,' he intimates coyly on 'Pretty Girls Make Graves' concluding, 'I've lost my faith in Womanhood' - both of which are in fact snippets open to entirely opposite interpretations.

When he breaks the genderless rule, it is with a slyness we might expect: 'into the depths of the criminal world I followed her...," calling up a reference to Cocteau's Orpheus films (a comparison not so obscure when you consider that their star, and Cocteau's lover, Jean Marais was featured on the cover of 'This Charming Man'). Where Cocteau's Orpheus is left unable to look at his wife (perhaps he too had lost his faith in Womanhood), Morrissey ends with 'I need advice because nobody ever looks at me twice'.

For every tendency in Morrissey's scheme of things, though, there is the necessary balance, for the heaving tragedy of 'And "love" is just a miserable lie' there's the flippancy of 'I know that wind-swept mystical air/It means I'd like to see your underwear'.

It's more than just a question of balance, though, it's a problem of plausibility, and Morrissey is very believable; how convincing his aura of deceptive simplicity, how credible his imitation of the wide-eyed village boy adrift in the big city. When he claims to be 'a country mile behind the world' you believe him, largely because his view of the city is one visibly strained through early '60's films of late '50's novels - a notion of reality three times removed.

'Still Ill', for example, is a drama of flawed perfection, flickering fading values in dusty monochrome - Morrissey kissing beneath the iron bridge finds the fictional Britishness of his obsession slipping through his fingers, 'But we cannot cling to the old dreams anymore'.

What Morrissey captures above all is a notion of despair reflected perfectly in the lacklustre sound of his cohorts, a death of the punk ideals that Morrissey is quite old enough to have been closely involved in. In turn what distinguishes him from a Weller is firstly his wit, and secondly the sensitivitiy to deal in despair without resorting to preaching in desperation.

What does this suitor offer? A calculated plan, perhaps, but enough to haunt the imagination. For the moment that's enough."

Don Watson
New Musical Express, February 25, 1984

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See the original review here


"So, another legend in the making. On the strength of three singles, 'Hand In Glove', 'This Charming Man' and 'What Difference Does It Make', Manchester's the Smiths have already attracted the same groundswell of hope and support that turned the likes of Joy Division into a virtual deity and consequent self-parody. But the current rock'n'roll vacuum needs a band with leadership qualities and the Smiths seem to have been elected by the press and "in touch" public as the band most suitable to plug that gap.

With the self-confessed celibate and non-drinking Morrissey out front the band has a vocalist/lyricist with the essential honesty and fanaticism to engender respect and even worship in those looking for a new religion.

On The Smiths, their first album, this charming man sings of lust, guilt, child murders and more lust with a plaintive, doleful mourn that becomes plain weary on 'Reel Around The Fountain' (not the way to begin an album, fellas) and 'The Hand That Rocks The Cradle' and real maudlin on 'I Don't Owe You Anything'.

The band's true talent is guitarist Johnny Marr. He believes in the beauty of simplicity and he gets that clean crystalline guitar sound that has chimed through the best pop songs from the Byrds to early Echo and the Bunnymen. When he gets the tune right and hits stride as in 'Still Ill', 'You've Got Everything Now' and 'Hand In Glove', then the Smiths look like having a future.

But the real strokes of brilliance occur when Morrissey and Marr hit empathy. 'What Difference Does It Make?' is the best uptempo Smiths because Marr is pushing Morrissey, and 'Suffer Little Children' is brilliant because there's a tragedy in the song that transcends self-pity and Marr keeps it delicate, sensitive and simple.

Advice: let the Smiths grow without the burden of unrealistic devotion. If Morrissey is one of rock'n'roll's great individuals let him prove it, don't be so damned accepting. The truth is that The Smiths is a disappointingly good album from a potentially exceptional band."

George Kay
Rip It Up, April 1984

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See the original review here


"Morrissey, singer and lyricist of the Smiths, has little use for the ironic mode: His memories of heterosexual rejection and homosexual isolation seem too persistently painful to be dealt with obliquely. Morrissey lays out his life like a shoebox full of faded snapshots.

Given Morrissey's rather somber stance, "The Smiths" is surprisingly warm and entertaining. Though Morrissey's voice - a sometimes toneless drone that can squeal off without warning into an eerie falsetto - takes some getting used to, it soon comes to seem quite charming, set as it is amid the delicately chiming guitars of co-composer Johnny Marr. And the eleven songs here are so rhythmically insinuating that the persistent listener is likely to find himself won over almost without warning."

Kurt Loder
Rolling Stone Yearbook

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"Morrissey's words are rather like his clothes - they're sombre, curiously old-fashioned and they don't quite fit. And, at times, the tunes seem barely attached to the guitars that chime like clockwork underneath them, making the strange little scenes they conjure up seem all the more mysterious. Apart from a couple of dull tracks, this LP is genuinely wonderful." (8 out of 10)

Mark Ellen
Smash Hits, 1-14 March, 1984

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"Current toast of the town, The Smiths are not to be denied. Morrissey relays ten tales of love missed or mangled, mixing gay abandon with his witty brand of melancholy.

Johnny Marr's tunes are melodic joy. The album's closer 'Suffer The Little Children', a chilling account of the Moors murders, proves there's more to Morrissey than whimsy.

Best debut LP since U2." 5/5

Mark Cooper
No. 1, February 25, 1984

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"SO THE Smiths are worth a headline here, and there. (I've been listening to this album for a while and I've enjoyed it every time.) But can this be the only valid, vibrant atom in pop's pallid body?

Not yet. The Smiths don't stretch enough. They're standing for attention here with their arms folded, cradling their perfected pop aesthetic, but further than their arms might reach from other perfections.

Where are those moments of beauty?

Well, the words perhaps. Morrissey uses pop words as it's never been done before. It's utterly, absolutely true. Anyone would know it after hearing the ragged, musically unexceptional 'Hand In Glove'.

Morrissey believes he's only just begun with those words. And yet, the songs here are perfectly pointed pins and needles aimed straight at my heart.

As far as lyrical forms/expressions are important, Morrissey has mastered his art. But then that doesn't mean this album is astonishing or anything. I think we expected what is here. When I hear 'Hand In Glove' or 'The Hand That Rocks The Cradle', I know that, indeed, here is a new, great way to say some things that are as old as the hills. To shed more light on those things.

When I hear "Rattle my bones all over the stones/ I'm only a beggar man who nobody owns", I smile, because Morrissey can be very funny.

Getting along through (to what might turn out to be best) to 'Still Ill', he's overindulging his self-pity (one line: "England is mine, it owes me a living/ ask me why and I'll spit in your eye") and I find my way back.

To 'Reel Around The Fountain': that is beautiful, a monument and a colossal moment. It's worth it if only for that one moment when the Smiths have what will possibly (though I hope not) always be their greatest moment.

And there will be one/two many such moments for everyone... Good. And (bar the occasional falsetto) Morrissey sings those words as well as he writes them: it definitely sounds like it's all meant, and that alone is no small blessing.

But the rest is the problem. The Smiths behind Morrissey don't beat around enough, and they brush around the beat too much.

Apart from 'Fountain', and one immense surge of sound on 'You've Got Everything Now', the tunes just jump and rock and occasionally mellow frighteningly... it's all so neat! In this Morrissey/Marr thing, the Marr's behind should be kicked, and sharpish.

Back to the other point: you could say that at the end of it all, yes, the Smiths are still worth a headline here, and there.

And the difference it makes? It's a welcome difference, but it's not a very big one. Perhaps it will grow." ****

Robin Gibson
Sounds, February 25, 1984

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The Healing Festival

"These songs, this music, The Smiths themselves, seem to owe nothing very much to anyone; they appear to exist without convenient contemporary comparisons. For music as lean and urgent, as passionately articulate and eerily beautiful as the most haunting episodes on this record, you have to refer back to the stark emotional lyricism of the Velvet Underground's third album, and the decisive genuis of songs like "What Goes On", "Some Kinda Love" and "Pale Blue Eyes".

There really isn't much room for anything but perfection on this LP. There are moments here that float and shimmer with a spectacular inevitability, a timelessness, an opinion of their own enormous qualities that only the very best pop music can boast. And, like most of pop's most enduring moments, The Smiths' music is often brusingly mordant in its preoccupation with states of melancholy, regret, an ironic nostalgia for the way things might have been, but obviously weren't and, perhaps, were never intended to be.

Like most great pop, "The Smiths" is also consumed by an extravagant romanticism; a touching conviction that love can overcome the most critical of life's squalid realities. The beguiling sensuality of songs like "Reel Around The Fountain" and the awe-inducing "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle" proposes an intimacy, a sense of communication through fingers, tongues and senses - a sense of coming together, if you like - that will enable us to survive wider disasters. When Morrissey's voice curves gently along the acrobatic contours of "Cradle", it becomes a hymn of reassurance; the song returns an honourable dignity to a tarnished world. When Johnny Marr's exquisite guitar caresses the provocative melodic nudge of "I Don't Owe You Anything", The Smiths sound like the very definition of Marvin Gaye's idea of sexual healing.

The world inhabited by Morrissey's blistered imagination and Johnny Marr's evocative melodic settings is a world that's been betrayed: their songs describe impoverished lives, circumscribed options, limited achievements, murderous equations. Illness, corruption and death are frequently present as central images in Morrissey's lyrics and the glimmering twilight melodies Marr provides for creepy, genuinely unsettling essays like "Pretty Girls Make Graves" and "Suffer Little Children" (a brilliantly mounted evocation of the horrors of the Moors Murders and one of the most chilling interludes since John Cale's "Leaving It Up To You").

I don't mean to make "The Smiths" sound like an exercise in cerebral bleakness: there's a robust physical enthusiasm at work on most fronts here, a very natural sense of what makes a song work. Whether the group is dealing with the vibrant clout of "What Difference Does It Make?", the spaciously poignant dignity of "Reel Around The Fountain" (its dexetrous melody nicely enhanced by Paul Carrack's luminous keyboards) or the epileptic urgency of "Miserable Lie", The Smiths always sound uncommonly right.  The language of the songs, the musical structures seem frighteningly correct: it's impossible to imagine them sounding any different. They are intolerant of revision.

Even when they deal with the most harrowing themes, The Smiths refuse any resort to melodrama, display a supreme confidence in the virtues of understatement. They convey meaning through atmosphere; through the brush of voices, the twist of strings, the punctuation of rhythm.

It doesn't matter in the end what you like most about this record; what matters is you allow yourself the opportunity to like anything about it you want to like. It's unlikely to disappoint your attention; it's uplifting and heartening. To paraphrase "I Don't Owe You Anything": life is never kind, but The Smiths know what will make you smile tonight, even if that distant chuckle is your own laughter chasing itself hollow down the hall.

If most of your faculties are intact and you still feel like you can be moved by the power of music, this is the album for you."

Allan Jones
Melody Maker, February 25, 1984

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See the original review here

SEE ALSO: CREEM review


"Judging by reactions to an appallingly foul debut by the Smiths (voted 1983's Best New Band by readers of Britain's pop music weekly, New Musical Express), the rock press's stock may be plummeting to an all-time low. How else can one explain English critics quoting Nietzsche to summarize the sexual politics of a record that promotes pederasty (sample lyric: "I once had a child/It saved my life... There never need be longing in your eyes/As long as the hand that rocks the cradle is mine")? How else to understand Creem magazine citing one of the songs as condoning child molesting, then rendering a final judgement on "The Smiths" as ambiguous as the ambisexual lyrics this quartet generally deals in? Forget the music, a watered-down cop of the R.E.M./Echo and the Bunnymen style of jangly, "new psychedelic" guitar/bass/drums. Ignore singer/songwriter Morrissey's canny self-promotion. Neglect the fact that Morrissey can't carry a tune. Skip the simple charms of the acclaimed single, This Charming Man, which only proves no British band to be above plundering the Motown catalog for a surging bass line when necessity so dictates. Instead, focus on a quotation from Reel Around The Fountain. "Fifteen minutes with you," the singer tells us, recalling the particularly apt Warholian dictum about stardom and the quarter hour, "well, I wouldn't say no." When it comes to The Smiths, I would."

Wayne King
High Fidelity, August 1984

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SEE ALSO: Wimp's Lament


Johnny Marr on...

'The Smiths'

"All the elements of the Smiths are there. There's nothing lost, I'm sure of it. Our producer John Porter was the perfect studio technician for us. He got some amazing subtleties but at the same time we were putting some things down in just a couple of takes. "

- Sounds, February 25, 1984

Click here to read the full interview


LIVE REVIEWS

SOUL SHINING

North Staff Poly, Stoke - February 1, 1984
Debut album tour (UK leg)

"RIGHT ON cue, Morrissey has arrived to stick his bemused pin through the fragile powder-dusted skin of mirror-fetishism whose followers glide through the night to the sounds of hi-tech white soul music. With bare chests, and even barer souls, ladies and gentlemen... The Smiths!

Of course, The Smiths can do no wrong. Given their current status as the world's most wonderful band, mere lip service of a performance would have been slavered over for days to come. But that's not their way. A man who can construct such effortless gems of emotional angst as "Back To The Old House" and "I Don't Owe You Anything" is incapable of delivering less than his very best.

On stage, Morrissey's talents blend in perfectly with the deliciously understated actions of Johnny Marr's guitar work and anyone who can convey sunshine and optimism with six strings has to be worthy of considerable attention. Driving the entire shebang Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce - the nearest things to the perfect rhythm section I've heard since Watts and Wyman - perform as though invisibly bonded together by cosmic forces.

No-one could ever accuse The Smiths of a high visual profile, which considering the lack of lights on the stage, is perhaps just as well. The incongruous sight of Morrissey high-stepping around and handing out flowers to the front row, set against burly security guards sweating to prevent a full-scale invasion, remained largely invisible to the eager masses.

The raison d'etre is the sound, and the sentiment, and on those fronts, The Smiths score full marks. As Morrissey's voice weaved it's powerful spell with "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now", guitar, bass and drums provided backing that bristled with punch and sparkle, but never looked in danger of disturbing the delicate atmosphere.

Perhaps the most interesting segment of a fascinating show was "Barbarism Begins At Home", with Morrissey's lyrics going for the emotional jugular, but delivered as usual with a gentle smile and a throwaway wave of the hand. It was a perfect set-up for "Back To The Old House", the coup de gras, leaving only "What Difference" to decorate the message.

Since the current speed of backlash is heading off the dial, it's a fair bet that The Smiths will be everyone's Aunt Sally in a week or two, but they will continue to attract rabid devotion and critical acclaim because they make the most perfect observations of the human condition and then wrap them up in the most memorable melodies since Lennon and McCartney put pen to paper.

A man who can write a lyric like "I know what will make you smile tonight" under a title like "I Don't Owe You Anything" has pop music licked at its own game. Next stop, the world."

Simon Scott
Melody Maker, February 11, 1984

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Photo of Morrissey by unknown photographer. Reproduced without permission.

See the original review here


Ay Ay Ay Ay Morrissey

London Lyceum - February 12, 1984

"A PECULIAR mixture of Factory and Motown ripped through the disco speaker grilles (Lyceum-goers 'in' joke) prior to the Smiths' appearance; an odd amalgam of, shall we say, ancient and modern? I'm a shade too jaded to finely pursue the full implications of that, but it was a suitably apt scene setter.

The Smiths, three of them, make an entrance to generous applause which is rapidly curtailed as the punting populace grasp that He isn’t there. Morrisey (sic) springs forth a few seconds later. Gets his own gaggle of whistles and screams. Definitely very front person. In appreciative response, he tosses some dead flowers at the crowd.

This was my first full facial with the Smiths. An event made necessary by the compelling intrigue of their latest record and the sheer boredom of reading about them (the fact of the act, not the content). I had to discover, to my own satisfaction, whether they were a) downtrodden chart fodder with a streak of hypeish pseudo sensitivity or b) something else. Perhaps not as good.

Even allowing for my... opia, the Smiths on the Lyceum stage looked smaller and less in focus than they should have. In an early song, Morrissey sang "I’m not the man you think I am" and it was clear even that soon that the Smiths were not the group I thought they might be.

Their awakening strengths, that gushing emotional froth and the air of quintessentially English asceticism which haunts them, is little realised in sweaty monuments to large scale dance gore such as here.

I watched from the middle of the hall, surrounded by all manner of common riff raff while the Smiths offered really nothing to get excited over. They let down the vaguest of gauntlets, I suppose, by their very refusal to be obviously more than cutely melodic tunesmiths who've graced the charts a bit.

Morrissey extracted a measure of gratuitous sympathy when he spluttered about being "ill". You could feel the unheard cries of the Affected Youth as they collectively squealed ‘I know, Morrissey. I've been ill too, I know what it's like, I SHARE YOUR PAIN.' And that was a pain.

A crystal spirit rages somewhere within the Smiths but in the strict context of Tonight, it was never visible. A school teacher's assessment of their wider abilities might curtly say 'above average'. But in the class of '83 (where unfortunately they still belong) that's not saying much.

I’ll grant though, it is saying something."

Mick Sinclair
Sounds

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.

See the original review here

SEE ALSO: The Guardian Lyceum review

RELATED ITEM: The Lackbash Starts Here!

To read more about the Smiths' debut album tour, click here

TOUR NEWS ITEM: 'It's Smithsmania!'

1984: Mar-Apr

 





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