Monday, April 12, 2010

Album Review: The Smiths – The World Won’t Listen

How to review an album I’ve been listening to on and off for 23 years?? This odds and sods collection of songs was most welcome in 1987. A bit like “Hatful of Hollow 2”, it was a collection of non-album singles, B-sides, some album tracks and one new song.

It started off with 2 of the Smiths more commercial singles, Panic and Ask. Panic had become an unlikely hit the summer before, indeed, its Dublin reference in the lyrics had made it one of the first Smiths songs that people didn’t call “depressing”. It’s a kind of stomping, glammy anthem which zips along in less than 2 and a half minutes. Ask, which follows is one of the Smiths’ weaker singles with a fairly bog standard Morrissey tune, though it features nice jangly guitar from Johnny Marr.

London is one of Morrissey’s “leaving home and heading to the big smoke” songs. Lyrically it’s right on the money, with lines like “and you think they’re sad because you’re leaving, but did you see the jealousy in the eyes of the ones who had to stay behind.” Musically it’s a very fast song, which speeds up even more towards the end. Many of the songs are less than 3 minutes long, and quite fast in tempo, so the album flies along.

The rest of the first “side” of the album features mainly album and non-album singles, but the heart of the album is after this when we get to the B-sides. The Smiths’ singles were always worth buying, more so than any other band of the era as some of their strongest songs were on the B-side. Asleep is a wintry ballad, which sounds as morbid as Morrissey gets, over a simple piano tune, with some studio trickery creating a howling wind. Unloveable follows, a classic Morrissey self-loathing ballad. Check out these lyrics: “I know I’m unloveable, you don’t have to tell me” or “I wear black on the outside cos black is how I feel on the inside”. Some would base their ideals for living around these throwaway lyrics. The music itself is relatively simple, a descending guitar line with plenty of room for Morrissey to sing the aforementioned lyrics.

The next track, Half a Person is even better. Marr’s guitar playing on this one is quite wonderful, and Morrissey’s vocals sound great, without an ounce of strain on them. The song borrows a little from the Velvet Underground’s “That’s the Story of My Life”, but the Smiths put their own twist on it to create an absolute classic… “if you have 5 seconds to spare.”

Stretch Out and Wait follows, another superb slowish song . Marr chooses a great set of chord changes, which I haven’t heard anywhere else, and the melody is quite unusual also. Lyrically, Morrissey’s very much on ‘home ground’ (“will the world end in the night time I really don’t know”).

The one completely new song here is You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby, which is kind of like the great lost Smiths single. The tune is bright and upbeat, and it sounds like it would have been a hit. Once more Marr excels himself on guitar.

Listening to this album it’s hard to review these songs, as most of them are completely imprinted on my brain. However it would be wrong to ignore this album for that reason. Final track Rubber Ring, says it all: “don’t forget the songs that made you smile, and the songs that saved your life.”