“The Smiths. 1983-1984… And pop changed forever” (Santiago-Ander Editorial) is a kind of extended album review that incorporates the analysis of the musical context, influences, composition process, recording and adds some impact on the medium. There are actually two albums here, the Manchester quartet’s self-titled debut from 1983 and the compilation that was released the following year Hatful of Hollow. It is a magnifying glass in the period of the first steps of the band towards its consolidation, something that is usually exciting.
The title can lead to the misconception that it tells the story of an unprecedented group that appeared out of nowhere, as they do in BBC documentaries to make an impact. But the Spanish author Marcos Gendre makes a good exercise of placing The Smiths as part of a wave of the new indie pop sound somewhat later than post-punk.
He credits bands from the Glasgow label Postcard Records as influences, such as Aztec Camera and Orange Juice. Although there was already a nascent scene with an indie pop sound, it was this band that took the style further, until it was consolidated on a national level. Aided by a cleaner sound in the recording studio and their signing to Rough Trade, which was the backbone of the spread of independent labels throughout Britain, it also took them to another level. It was like being married to the boss, practically.
It also refers to the importance of Factory Records to Manchester and how Morrissey’s group and Johnny Marr found it old-fashioned. Bands like Joy Division used to mimic the sound of factories and paint a gloomy portrait of Manchester; in his music, The Smiths, he took this landscape in post-industrial decay, naming it as part of the background landscape for his stories of (mis)love, (mis)encounters and embellishing the place through melancholic melodies that turn happy several times. . How to return the soul to the body.
In the midst of the irruption of electropop, this scene once again took the guitar, bass and drums as the main format, The Smiths could seem like one more. Their live sound emulated punk urgency, sometimes dirty, and encouraged dance. Their biggest difference was Johnny Marr’s mastery on the guitar and Morrissey’s charisma as a frontman. It wasn’t just his movements, it was his operatic and extensive voice, which played with the accelerated riffs of his partner. Marr, who collected the soul of the 60’s, glam, rock and roll, psychedelia and the oldest folk, and adapted them to his style. As a pair they worked by making combustion.
The book could be married to a single album like the 33+1⁄3 collection, but it chooses its debut, self-titled album and Hatful of Hollow. For a group that was growing by leaps and bounds, the public and the press were demanding. They did not forgive an album in which the band repeated itself, even if the formula continued to work. They put adjectives on it like pale and flat, they wanted it to sound full of vitality like they did live.
To give back to their loyal fans, they then released this Hatful of Hollow compilation with shots from the failed session of what would have been the first album, and some recordings from the famous DJ John Peel’s show. So everyone was happy. The label for having made the band sound more careful and reach a larger audience, and then the fans for reliving on an LP what they saw live being so close to the band. Then his other classic albums would come. But for that we hope that Marcos Gendre will venture with an upcoming book about the Smiths.