Superb essay. Probably the best essay about The Smiths I've read in the Guardian, the NME, Uncut, Mojo, or anyplace else, ever. Its best part is the bit about how The Smiths' ordinariness was radical in 1983, a truth often forgotten in the usual avalanches of overwrought praise. To grasp what made The Smiths special, you have to understand what was going on in the world in their mid-80s lifespan. Thankfully, in the early interviews, Morrissey explained the situation in detail. Now someone else has, too.
PS The article is a great example of why The Smiths were, and remain, intrinsically political.
What a wonderful, evocative, beautifully written article. This captures so many aspects of the post-punk 80s: how important musical culture was before the lifeline of the internet, when outsiders of all stripes were bound together by music, books and zines. Yes, the remasters will never sound as good as his gritty tapes, or the songs as I remember them, with the needle skipping when we danced a little too enthusiastically.
That's how Morrissey transcended gender, race, nationality, and any other pigeonhole they'd still like stick him in. That's why Johnny Marr's genius for uplifting, classic pop songs with a distinctive jangle was the perfect vehicle for lyrics and vocals that might have sounded a bit dour otherwise. The '80s mainstream was slick, cold, glittery and over-produced, with giant shoulder pads and no heart. We were grateful for every band that expressed something ragged and real.
An ongoing reevaluation of The Smiths' music by the folk at Prefix magazine seems to go well with the essay:
...The Smiths' Complete Collection...features all four studio albums, the live album Rank, and the compilations Hatful of Hollow and Louder Than Bombs, all newly remastered by Johnny Marr. It was released October 18, and since that time we here at the Prefix offices have had the chance to wade through its 106 songs to choose the twenty definitive Smiths songs - those album tracks that represent the band in all their mopey, melancholic glory, those experiments that strayed from their usual formula (and succeeded), and the B-sides that have become staples in the collections of Smiths completists.