Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)

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Title: A reference to what is now called HM Prison Manchester. By the time the album was released in September 1987, the group had actually broken up – prompted by Johnny Marr’s decision to quit.

Cover: A poor-quality image of actor Richard Davalos taken from 1955 movie East of Eden – he’s looking at an out-of-shot James Dean. Morrissey originally wanted Harvey Keitel as the cover star but the actor refused to give his permission.

Best song: Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me is a fucking epic. It has a lengthy prologue of moody piano and sound effects of a baying crowd. Then when the track explodes into life at the 1.53 mark, it’s a glorious switch to blockbusting widescreen. Majestic, theatrical, histrionic, bold, *beautiful*.

Honourable mentions:

* A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours has a pleasant rolling rhythm with some off-beat keyboard accents. No guitars at all appear on the track – a deliberate move on Marr’s part, given that the group were famed as a guitar band. Its title is a reference to 19th-century Irish nationalism.

* I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish is joyous. It has a stop-start guitar intro, then bursts forth with a catchy and likeable melody. And it’s a full sound of heavy guitar slashes, saxophone blasts created on a synth, and a relentless big snare-drum sound. Morrissey didn’t like the song but nevertheless has great fun with the vocals, even growling the words at times. The lyrics are about making an ill-judged pass on a platonic friend – whether the resulting “18 months hard labour” is meant to be literal or psychological is open to debate.

* Death of a Disco Dancer has a mesmeric cyclical chord sequence driven by a solemn bassline. Marr based it on the Beatles’ Dear Prudence. About halfway through, the song kicks into an even more intense gear – Andy Rourke’s bass jumps up an octave, Marr goes mental on the guitar, Mike Joyce cracks off some drum fills, and Morrissey rather haphazardly bashes at a piano (his only musical contribution to a Smiths song). It’s a genuine disappointment when it ends.

* Girlfriend in a Coma is another hit-and-run track (it’s only just over two minutes). After a seesawing bass intro, it’s superficially similar to The Hand That Rocks The Cradle but is a more upbeat piece of music. Reportedly Marr was so against this being a single that its release contributed to his decision to quit the band. (It got to number 13: not bad for a ditty with such bleak lyrics.) Douglas Coupland, who coined the term ‘Generation X’, later named a novel after this song.

* Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before – Morrissey was enjoying wordy song titles in 1987! – was meant to be the album’s lead single. A music video was even made. However, the line “the pain was enough to make a shy, bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder” meant the BBC refused to play it in the aftermath of the Hungerford shootings. So the 7” was scrapped. The song is terrific.

* Unhappy Birthday pairs a nasty, spiteful lyric with an upbeat tune. It works. Who wouldn’t be charmed by the way Morrissey’s vocal comes in a beat before the music at 1.59?

* Paint a Vulgar Picture is a witty satire of the record industry. It bangs on a bit, though.

* I Won’t Share You was the last track recorded for the album and coincidentally its moody finale. The chords are actually the same as 1986 single Ask, but the tranquil, plaintive mood of the song disguises the similarity. Marr plays an autoharp (a stringed instrument with dampers that mute all the strings not being used); Andy Rourke adds a simple bassline, while Mike Joyce doesn’t feature on the recording at all. Despite the use of the word ‘she’, the lyrics have been interpreted by most as being an open letter from Morrissey to Marr as their creative partnership teetered on the brink.

Worst song: Death At One’s Elbow is going for a 1950s, skiffle vibe. But it’s quite annoying.

Review: Sheen. That’s the word for it. The whole album sounds *superb* – clean, professional, summery and breezy at times, dark and mysterious when necessary. But Paint a Vulgar Picture’s prolixity and Death At One Elbow’s dullness mean it doesn’t quite get a maximum score.

Nine sycophantic slags out of 10.

The World Won’t Listen (1987)

…including a section on Louder Than Bombs (1987)

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Title: The World Won’t Listen’s title is another complaint from Morrissey that the band weren’t getting enough – or the right kind of – attention. This album is a kind of sequel to Hatful of Hollow, mopping up recent non-album singles and B-sides. I’ll restrict myself to discussion of songs not available on albums I’ve already reviewed.

Cover: A photograph by Jürgen Vollmer, a German art student who met the Beatles in the early 60s and took some now-famous pictures of them. Cassette and CD versions crop the original image significantly.

Best song:

* Rubber Ring was a B-side to The Boy With The Thorn in His Side. It begins with a jazzy bass lick, then settles into a vaguely reggae rhythm. The track is soulful and mysterious and enigmatic. An ode to the power of music, the lyrics are really well sung by Morrissey. The song also uses some samples: a snatch of John Gielgud from a 1969 audio recording of The Importance of Being Earnest (“Everybody’s clever nowadays…”), and a 1971 clip of a woman claiming to be reciting messages from the dead (”You are sleeping! You do not want to believe!”). On the 12”, the track cutely segued into fellow B-side Asleep – sadly, although both tracks appear on this album, they’ve been sequenced separately.

Honourable mentions:

* Panic (a single in July 1986) was the first Smiths recording with new fifth member Craig Gannon. He’d been hired to replace bassist Andy Rourke due to the latter’s drug habit; when Rourke was reinstated, Gannon moved to second guitarist but only lasted a few months. A short and punchy guitar song, Panic has lyrics attacking modern music. The refrain “Hang the DJ!” was – maybe apocryphally – inspired by Radio 1’s Steve Wright following a news report about the Chernobyl disaster with Wham!’s upbeat I’m Your Man. Anyone criticising Steve Wright is going to be in my good books.

* Ask was released as an A-side in October 1986, though this version is a slight remix. It’s based on a chord sequence allegedly cooked up by Gannon, who to his chagrin wasn’t credited. Lightweight but likeable.

* London, a B-side on the 12” of Shoplifters of the World Unite, has a terrific urgency about it. The incessant drums dramatise the lyric’s story about a journey to Euston, echoing a train’s buffeting rhythm. An almost punk guitar drives the track along, while the bassline chugs away brilliantly. With 40 seconds to go, the song switches mood and we get arpeggio guitar and madcap drumming.

* Shakespeare’s Sister was single flop in March 1985 (if number 26 can be considered a flop, which a lot of people did at the time). Another Smiths song about suicide, its title alludes to Virginia Woolf’s feminist argument that if Shakespeare had had a talented sister she would never have been given equal credit. It’s maybe an interesting song rather than a purely entertaining one. It’s only 128 seconds, but fits a lot in: a fun intro, changes of rhythm, and more action-packed drumming.

* Shoplifters of the World Unite had been a single in January 1987. It was recorded at Trident Studios in Soho, which the Beatles used in 1968 and which is only a two-minute walk from my office. Obviously punning on Karl Marx, its lyrics are said to be about Morrissey’s habit of cribbing material from other sources. The track has a surprising switch to rock at the 1.41 mark, when Johnny Marr cranks open a very 1980s-sounding guitar solo, his first true solo on a Smiths record.

* Money Changes Everything was only on cassette versions of this album at the time (and then subsequent CD reissues). It had been the B-side to Bigmouth Strikes Again and is a rare Smiths instrumental. Inconsequential fun, the track was later given lyrics and renamed The Right Stuff by Bryan Ferry. Marr himself played on the resulting travesty.

* Half a Person was Shoplifters’ B-side and is thoroughly gorgeous. Full of linguistic oddities, the words swim their way through some delightfully arranged music. A joy.

* Stretch Out and Wait had been a B-side on the Shakespeare’s Sister 12”, but this a slightly different version with some added sound effects. It has a great acoustic feel – check out the soft rattles of snare drum! – while a lyric celebrating sex is not something you hear often in the Smiths’ discography.

* Oscillate Wildly, the band’s first instrumental, had been a B-side to How Soon Is Now? in January 1985. Morrissey seems to have been happy not to feature (though he still insisted a co-writer’s credit). Built around a piano phrase, the track also uses a cello part played by Andy Rourke and some fake woodwind instruments. It’s rather magnificent.

* You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby was recorded in October 1986 as a potential single. But it was shelved in favour of Shoplifters, so is the only exclusive track on this compilation. It’s a jingle-jangle-tastic pop song with a catchy chorus.

Worst song: Golden Lights was originally a B-side to Ask, then added as a bonus track to CD reissues of this album. It’s absolutely *ghastly*.

Review: There’s loads of great stuff here, though obviously most of it would have been familiar to fans at the time.

Eight provincial towns you jog round out of 10.

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Louder Than Bombs: A few weeks after the release of The World Won’t Listen, US label Sire brought out Louder Than Bombs. This American compilation more or less merged The World Won’t Listen with the earlier Hatful of Hollow, but because it also contained three tracks not on any other LP it was soon available in the UK too. Its title is a quotation from Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept, a favourite prose poem of Morrissey’s. The cover is an image of Shelagh Delaney, the writer of A Taste of Honey and one of Mozzer’s heroines. The songs not available on previous albums are…

* Is It Really So Strange? (a B-side on Sheila Take a Bow) is from a December 1986 BBC radio session. An earlier attempt to record it had disappointed the group. It’s a decent track, though perhaps a strange choice for the opener to Louder Than Bombs. Morrissey’s lyrics are funny: “I got confused, I killed a horse/I can’t help the way I feel.”

* Sheila Take A Bow, released as a single in April 1987, is sadly one of the band’s poorest A-sides.

* Sweet and Tender Hooligans, a B-side on Sheila’s 12”, is a blistering burst of guitar rock. A return to the brutal attacking style of Handsome Devil, the song starts with a cunning bit of stereo mixing as the guitar riff flits around the channels. Like Is It Really So Strange?, this version was recorded for the BBC.

* The edit of You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby is a different mix.

* Stretch Out and Wait is the original B-side cut, which has slightly different lyrics.

The Queen is Dead (1986)

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Title: It’s been 10,675 days since this album was released. And she’s still going.

Cover: An image of actor Alain Delon, taken from 1964 film L’Insoumis. It’s been tinted green to give it a vaguely Victorian-death-chic look.

Best song: It’s impossible to pick just one.

* The title track, which starts the album, is very possibly the band’s greatest achievement. It begins with a cold open: a short clip cribbed from a 1962 film called The L-Shaped Room in which a character sings an old music-hall standard. We’re in the past – the world is black-and-white, there’s Blitz spirit and kitchen-sink drama. Then the switch to Mike Joyce’s tribal-drum patterns is a time-travelling jolt, thrusting us into the *here and fucking now*. Based on an idea Johnny Marr had been working on for years, the music has a ‘garage band’ intensity. There’s feedback, there’s a grungy bass riff, there are wah-wah guitar washes. In the family tree of Manchester indie bands, here’s the link between the dark, hypnotic mood of Joy Division and the sparkling, dance-influenced groove of the Stone Roses. It’s incredibly powerful music that demands to be played loud. And then Morrissey provides probably his strongest ever lyric: an arch mish-mash of monarchy-bashing, secrets in your heritage and disillusionment with society.

* I Know It’s Over is the heartbeat of this album. The Smiths have often been the target of ridicule because of a perceived obsessed with depression, suicide, self-pity and other ‘angsty’ topics. But to paraphrase a character in The West Wing when talking about the use of the word ‘liberal’ as a negative, if you throw these terms at the band’s feet, they’ll pick them up and proudly wear them as a badge. After the song’s backing track had been finished without his input, Morrissey walked into the studios and recorded his vocal. His band mates had no idea what he was going to do, and that day in autumn 1985 they were shocked by his stunning vocal performance. The rest of us still are. This is a *heartbreakingly* tender confession of loneliness and helplessness, which would only fail to move a misanthropic dullard. But it’s far from one-dimensional. There’s a clever switch to a second character’s voice (“And you even spoke to me and said…”), while the lyric also contains some touching altruistic advice to those who *are* happy (“Handsome groom, give her room…”). If anything the song is even more impressive musically. The pulse of the bass guitar, the chiming guitar flourishes, the subtle string effects… It’s a gorgeous, grown-up, complex arrangement that builds in intensity across six minutes. It’s literally perfect.

Honourable mentions:

* Frankly, Mr Shankly starts with comically lumbering bass notes, then we get a lyric about being fame-hungry. It’s said to be a coded dig at the band’s record-label boss, Geoff Travis, specifically in its reference to “bloody awful poetry”.

* Cemetry Gates (the spelling error was made at the time) is a lyrical gymnastics routine. Morrissey uses a day spent gravestone-spotting as a witty metaphor for his own habit of stealing lyrics from other people. He and a friend trade quotations – Keats, Yeats and Wilde are name-checked, Shakespeare alluded to – each claiming poets to be on their team. Morrissey then places his tongue firmly in his cheek and sings, “Don’t plagiarise or take on loan/There’s always someone, somewhere, with a big nose who knows and who trips you up and laughs when you fall.” And the punchline comes when he claims Oscar Wilde is on his side. Wilde, after all, once said, “Talent borrows, genius steals.” Wanting to challenge himself, Johnny Marr set out to write something special for the music. He soon stumbled on a chord change (B minor to G) that, the other way round, had famously excited John Lennon while co-writing I Want To Hold Your Hand. Marr’s resulting melody is upbeat, busy and effortlessly charming, while Andy Rouke’s bass plays a big role in the urgency of the track.

* Bigmouth Strikes Again was Marr consciously trying to ape the Rolling Stones classic Jumpin’ Jack Flash (he wanted “something that was a rush all the way through”). It’s a big song, mixed for a 3D effect. The only flaw is some ill-advised high-pitched backing vocals. Obviously, the title refers to Morrissey himself – specifically, one assumes, the way people often take him too literally. A 7” single in May 1986, this song was the band’s first material released in eight months due to legal problems. The last single before the hiatus had been…

* The Boy With The Thorn in His Side was the first track recorded for the album, based on a musical idea Marr had been busking during recent sound checks. Morrissey’s lyrics are about the music press not appreciating him and the band. He once said it was his favourite Smiths song. It’s absolutely delightful.

* There is a Light That Never Goes Out has an attention-grabbing opening that tells you something important is about to happen. One of the Smiths’ most famous and popular tracks (rightly so), the idea that this should be a single was astonishingly rejected in favour of Bigmouth Strikes Again. This song is actually built on the same chord sequence as Bigmouth, but they’re a world apart tonally. This has an emotive string part and a flute melody, which add extra beauty and sentimentality to Morrissey’s wonderful lyrics. Seemingly about suicide, the words actually have an underlying optimism: the character only wants death because he knows life will never be this good again – he wants to preserve a moment of happiness. Stirring, crafted and catchy, this is a stadium-rock anthem in disguise. The one time I’ve seen Morrissey live, in Manchester on 11 July 2004, he performed this song. There were tens of thousands of us singing along with him:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXwIOvICyVs

Worst song: Vicar in a Tutu is slightly irritating filler. It also goes out of time.

Review: A glorious kaleidoscope of styles, tones, emotions, musical invention and dazzling wordplay. The Smiths’ masterpiece, and a strong contender for the best album of the 1980s.

Ten dreaded sunny days out of 10.

Meat is Murder (1985)

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Title: Eating dead animals is a bad thing.

Cover: A photograph of Marine Corporal Michael Wynn during the Vietnam War, taken from a 1968 documentary called In the Year of the Pig. It appears four times (but only once on the CD version). The original wording on his helmet – ‘Make war not love’ – has been changed to the album’s title. It reflects the more overtly political attitude in Morrissey’s lyrics.

Best song: Barbarism Begins At Home is the band’s longest song (6.57), but could be several hundred times that length before it outstayed its welcome. Like How Soon Is Now?, it’s a bit of an oddity in the discography. At face value, the gloomy, suicidal, flower-waving, Coronation Street-quoting Morrissey shouldn’t be singing on a funk track. But Mozzer seems to be enjoying this impression of Chic – he even yelps with delight at various points. His pithy lyrics are about parental violence, but (again like How Soon Is Now?) he knows when to get out of the way. A bulk of the song is given over to the rhythm section, and the more the song goes on it’s increasingly Andy Rouke who steps into the spotlight. His bassline is out of this world. I want to have its babies.

Honourable mentions:

* The Headmaster Ritual has a sensational staccato intro beat that kick-starts the album. And then we get one of Morrissey’s priceless opening gambits: “Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools…” It’s an anti-corporal-punishment lyric, and the first of many songs on this LP about violence. Johnny Marr’s George Harrison-influenced riff and Rouke’s bubbling bassline make for a dynamic groove: another theme on this album.

* Rusholme Ruffians has traces of skiffle and rockabilly. The lyrics were partly cribbed from a Victoria Wood comedy song called Fourteen Again (and contain more talk of violence). They fit the circus beat of the music really well.

* What She Said is like a ferocious series of whip-cracks. Basically just a whirling dervish of a guitar riff and a never-ending drum fill, it’s hypnotic stuff. The spell is only broken by a dramatically sudden conclusion. How else could it end?

* That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore is Marr’s favourite Smiths song. It’s easy to see why. It’s big and majestic, but also dark and dangerous. The guitars are icy cool, it has a cheeky fake fade-out, and Mike Joyce’s drumming is terrific.

* How Soon Is Now? was on the US version of the album and some CD reissues in the UK. I banged on about its undimmed glory in the review of Hatful of Hollow. In terms of Meat is Murder’s running order, sadly it sticks out like a sore thumb in sixth place. It’s best to sequence around it.

* Nowhere Fast is a comedy sketch of a song, with a witty lyric about exposing yourself to Elizabeth II. (That’s nothing compared to what’ll happen to her in the next album.) The wordplay alone is worth the price of the album. But the vaudeville storytelling shouldn’t distract from how artful the music is – check out the way the band dramatises Morrissey’s line about “When a train goes by…” There’s even something approaching a guitar solo – a real Smiths rarity.

* Well I Wonder is quietly magnificent with a gorgeous, low-key acoustic arrangement. (It was actually released marginally earlier than the rest of the album, as the B-side to How Soon Is Now?)

Worst song: The title track is sanctimonious drivel. A dull enough song to begin with, it then has mooing cows and machine noises dubbed onto it. Subtle.

Review: Another stunner. It was the band’s only number-one album – not bad for a second studio LP self-produced by 25-year-old Morrissey and 21-year-old Marr.

Nine kitchen aromas out of 10.

Hatful of Hollow (1984)

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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.

Honourable mentions:

* 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.

The Smiths (1984)

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Title: Dully eponymous. The band chose their everyday name as a reaction against contemporary groups with elaborate monikers such as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

Cover: A still of actor Joe Dallesandro taken from Andy Warhol’s Flesh, a 1968 art-house movie. It’s been cropped to highlight his torso.

Best song: This Charming Man, which had been a single in October 1983, was on the cassette version of the original album. At the time of its release, the NME’s Danny Kelly called hearing it “one of those moments when a vivid, electric awareness of the power of music is born or renewed” – and it’s hard to disagree. This is a pop song par excellence: dynamic, upbeat, fun and catchy. It was kick-started when Morrissey watched 1972 film Sleuth on TV and noted Laurence Olivier calling Michael Caine a ‘jumped-up pantry boy’. The resulting lyrics convey everything and nothing all at the same time. They’re evocative and full of detail and emotional resonance, but what the ‘story’ actually means is anyone’s guess. (The lyrics are also short: just 88 words.) Like the rest of this debut album, the track was recorded multiple times before everyone was happy. This version positively *sparkles* with energy. A dozen or more guitar lines – some acoustic – create a kinetic energy cloud of music, under which there’s a funky bass riff driving everything along. The gleaming 12-second instrumental intro is amongst the most precious passages of sound in popular culture.

Honourable mentions:

* Reel Around the Fountain is a sumptuous opener to the album. Its ornate lyric vaguely recounts a first sexual encounter. However, it was misunderstood by idiots at The Sun, who argumentatively claimed that one line (“…you took a child and you made him old…”) means the song is about a paedophile. Such dreary literal-mindedness created a mini-furore, the track was temporarily banned on BBC radio, and a planned single release was shelved. Morrissey’s vocal is lovely, especially on the radiant verse that begins “I dreamt about you last night and I fell out of bed twice…” And the music is fantastic – Johnny Marr delicately picks the notes out on his guitar, there’s a good bassline, while Paul Carrack of Roxy Music and Squeeze was brought in to add some nice piano and Hammond parts.

* Pretty Girls Make Graves is one of Morrissey’s playfully ambiguous lyrics – is it about virginity? Celibacy? Being gay? – and has a pleasant buoyant rhythm. There’s also real drama in sections when the song flies off into another realm for a few seconds (at 0.37, 1.26 and 2.16). This re-listen has been the first time I’ve ever noticed that Morrissey is quoting Hand in Glove during the fadeout.

* The Hand That Rocks The Cradle is a very early Morrissey/Marr track, and another song that some claim is about child abuse. The lyrics sound more like an ode to parenthood – until, that is, a final verse that contains worrying phrases like “your mother she need never know…” (This verse is not included in the printed lyrics on the album’s packaging). Whatever the truth, there’s some nice alliteration and it fits the driving, hypnotic music really well.

* Still Ill was only written after a failed attempt to record this debut album had been written off. It starts and ends with a distinctive staccato passage and rattles along in-between, thanks in large part to Morrissey’s lyrics. By magpie-ing phrases from and references to a myriad sources he created something that sounds big and important and vital, even if it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. The album’s house style of production – it’s an oddly ‘small’, contained sound – is the only downside. You get the feeling the song could take flight a bit more.

* Hand in Glove – urgent, moody, a little bit punky – was one of the first songs the band ever recorded, and released as their debut single in May 1983. (This version is the same take as the 7”, though remixed by album producer John Porter.) Like the Beatles at the start of their recording career, the Smiths add some earthy harmonica to beef up the sound.

* What Difference Does it Make? is strident guitar rock with a powerful arpeggio intro, some big acoustic chord chops and an energetic, busy arrangement. Whether we need Morrissey’s high-pitched wailing is another matter. During its recording, the singer went AWOL and only returned after drummer Mike Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke agreed that he could have more money than them. What difference did *that* make? It led to a row years later in the High Court over royalties.

Worst song: Miserable Lie is unremarkable to begin with – but then a jarring descent into a thrash-punk beat at the 0.54 mark is irritating beyond belief. A bad mix, which sounds bass-light, doesn’t help.

Review: An entire version of this LP was produced by former Teardrop Explodes guitarist Troy Tate then junked before John Porter was brought in for another go. (The Troy Tate version is easy to find online. It’s rubbish.) Morrissey still wasn’t thrilled with the result, but having spent so much money it was felt they needed to release something. Despite all that kerfuffle, the album stands up well. The quality of the writing is certainly there, right from the start – but it does sound like a band working under restraints. The album sits shyly in the corner rather than dominating the room. Very good rather than great.

Eight sore lips out of 10.