Title: It means empty-headed, which is far from appropriate for this smart compilation of singles, B-sides and tracks recorded for BBC radio sessions.
Cover: A black-and-white photo of a Google-defying dude called Fabrice Collette, taken from a 1983 issue of French newspaper Libération. For some reason, reissues on CD have zoomed in on Collette’s head and made the image full-bleed, whereas the LP had a blue border for the text.
Best song: How Soon Is Now? is not so much a song as a head trip. Initially released as the B-side to the 12” of William, It Was Really Nothing, it was then put on Hatful of Hollow before being added to overseas versions of the band’s second studio album *and* getting a 7” release of its own in January 1985. It’s a stunning seven minutes of sound – a relentless shimmer, distorted guitars, searing tremolo lines, skeletal guitar phrases, reverby 80s drum sounds and even some whistling. It’s a masterpiece of production, sounding fresh and vibrant and new as well as familiar and comforting. Morrissey’s insightful lyrics are about loneliness and inadequacy, surely things that most of us have felt. They fit the metre of the song perfectly – soaring above it at times, but mostly letting the music breathe. The song doesn’t really sound like The Smiths – it has more in common with dance music. But it’s the exception that proves the rule.
* William, It Was Really Nothing had been a recent single. It has a lovely sparkling guitar sound, an easy melody and lyrics about a friend’s boring marriage.
* What Difference Does It Make? is from a session recorded for John Peel’s Radio 1 show. It’s slightly beefier than the version on the debut album. The prominent, incessant drumming is ace.
* These Things Take Time is a good driving pop song with more vague-enough-to-mean-different-things lyrics. This version was recorded for David Jenson’s Radio 1 show
* This Charming Man gets an overhaul – this version is from a John Peel session (it predates the version released as a single, actually), and it’s softer and more laid-back than the 7”. It’s inferior, yet still intensely likeable.
* Handsome Devil is another track from a John Peel session. (A live version from a very early gig had been a B-side in 1983.) It’s a tremendously violent bit of music. Johnny Marr’s guitar riff cuts and slices; Mike Joyce’s drumming pounds away – it’s like the song is beating you up. The lyrics are witty and kinky, but they’re losing the fight with the onslaught of the instruments.
* Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now had been an A-side earlier in 1984, and is one of the band’s most famous songs. That fame is presumably because its words form one of Morrissey’s most overtly ‘depressed’ lyric. But putting aside people who misunderstand melancholy, this is a terrific song. It has quite joyful music – with a nice melodic bassline – while the lyrics are smart and funny. The song’s title is punning on a Sandy Shaw track called Heaven Knows I’m Missing You Now.
* This Night Has Opened My Eyes was only ever recorded for a John Peel show. Its lyrics are as grim as they come.
* Girl Afraid is a super bundle of energy, and was first released as the B-side to Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now. Now’s as good a place as any to mention something, though this comment applies to pretty much every Smiths song: Morrissey really is a terrific singer. His ‘phrasing’ sounds superbly inventive.
* Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want sends shivers down the spine each and every time you hear it. Originally a B-side to William, It Was Really Nothing, this beautiful, poignant song is surprisingly short (1.52) but says all it needs to say and more in that time – then ends the album on a tantalising cliffhanger of a suspended note… An equally gorgeous yet instrumental cover by The Dream Academy was used to great effect in one of the best movies ever made, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, while the Smiths original was also in another John Hughes classic, Pretty in Pink.
Worst song: There isn’t one. There just isn’t one.
Review: Frankly, every song could have been listed in the Honourable Mentions section, but I had to draw the line somewhere. From start to finish, this album is packed to bursting with excellent, dynamic, interesting, exciting, life-affirming music. Blissfully brilliant.
Ten mammary glands out of 10.