Thirty years since their initial explorations happened upon a sound that would change a generation’s expectations of music irrevocably, The Smiths’ legacy continues to delight their longtime devotees and surprise new generations. With that in mind, Eoghan Lyng takes us on a brief crash-course through The Smiths history
Twenty-five years ago, one of the finest musical partnerships came to an end. After five years of creating some of the finest songs of all time, Morrissey and Marr decided to call it a day. Just as Lennon and McCartney came up with the finest pieces of music in the 1960`s, Marr and Morrissey coagulated the world with their magnificent ears for composition. A tragic loss to the world of music, there has not been a songwriting partnership that has arrived to compensate in the intervening years.
Certainly, the musical marriage that existed within The Smiths must have appeared to be an unusual one at first glance in 1982. Combining a youthful eighteen year old guitarist with a twenty three year old failed journalist, it did not seem like a perfect combination. Morrissey had an unhealthy obsession with Oscar Wilde while Johnny Marr longed to be the next Keith Richards. The former had a penchant for wit and irony, while the latter had an ear for melody and tonality. The partnership should not have worked, but somehow it did.
Spaciously, the musical connection had its moments of divine brilliance. When Morrissey sang about meat being murder, Marr played a melancholy classical oratorio to bring Morrissey’s political viewpoints to the fore point. Similarly, when Johnny Marr came up with a scratchy orchestration of guitars on How Soon Is Now?Morrissey counterbalanced the song with romantic imagery. Over a period of five years and four studio albums, Marr and Morrissey aided each other. Lyrically, their songs were anti-establishment (The Queen is Dead, Nowhere Fast), homoerotic (This Charming Man, William, It Was Really Nothing), solemn (Heaven Knows I`m Miserable Now, Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me) or just plain humorous (Frankly Mr.Shankly, Shoplifters Of The World Unite).
Musically speaking, the songs incorporated jangly staccatos (Panic, Ask), psychedelic strumming (What She Said, Barbarism Begins At Home), orchestrated accompaniments (There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish) or mere upbeat moments of frivolity (I Want The One I Can`t Have, Bigmouth Strikes Again). Combining an intelligent musician with a singer who placed an inordinate emphasis on displaying verbose allusions in his lyrics was therefore an excellent move.
Neither could they be accused of maintaining an unadulterated insistence on re-writing the same album repeatedly. The band`s self titled debut album revolved around the premise of sexual fantasies. Their second album broadened their topics. Meat Is Murder was a post punk album that attacked the education systems as successfully as it produced the perfect guitar record. They would change direction on their 1986 masterpiece The Queen Is Dead, with its primary focus on songs that dealt with a changing England. Featuring wistful lyrics and melodic instrumentation, the album is a delightful perturbance. But the band would change direction once again on their final album Strangeways, Here We Come, an album that would become their heaviest both musically and lyrically. It was their fourth album that was their magnum opus, but would disillusion Johnny Marr sufficiently to convince him to bid farewell to his bandmates.
There are no words to explain the emptiness that Marr and Morrissey have left behind. Their music had elements of prog rock, punk rock, symphonic rock and pop, while the songs were written to be enjoyed by the upper and lower classes. Twenty five years after, their legacy lives on. Radiohead, Modest Mouse and Arctic Monkeys all perform that appeal to people intellectually as well as melodically. Morrissey’s audiences go crazy for the songs he wrote with Marr in a far more excessive manner than his solo songs. There is little else to say but that the world misses one the finest songwriting partnerships of all time.
The chances of Marr and Morrissey writing together again are slim to none. But the songs they leave behind are some of the greatest songs known to man, even if they claim to be criminally vulgar!