Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Smiths

  • The Smiths [Sire, 1984] B-
  • Meat Is Murder [Sire, 1985] C+
  • The Queen Is Dead [Sire, 1986] B+
  • Louder Than Bombs [Sire, 1987] B+
  • Strangeways, Here We Come [Sire, 1987] B
  • Rank [Sire, 1988] B

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Smiths [Sire, 1984]
Morrissey's slightly skewed relationship to time and pitch codes his faint melodies at least as much as Johnny Marr's much-heralded real guitar. What's turned him into an instant cult hero, though, is his slightly unskewed relationship to transitory sex--the boy really seems to take it hard. If you'll pardon my long memory, it's the James Taylor effect all over again--hypersensitivity seen as a spiritual achievement rather than an affliction by young would-be idealists who have had it to here with the cold cruel world. B-

Meat Is Murder [Sire, 1985]
It makes a certain kind of sense to impose teen-macho aggression on your audience--for better or worse, macho teens are expected to make a thing of their unwonted hostility. These guys impose their post-adolescent sensitivity, thus inspiring the sneaking suspicion that they're less sensitive than they come on--passive-aggressive, the pathology is called, and it begs for a belt in the chops. Only the guitar hook of "How Soon Is Now," stuck on by their meddling U.S. label, spoils the otherwise pristine fecklessness of this prize-winning U.K. LP. Remember what the Residents say: "Hitler was a vegetarian." C+

The Queen Is Dead [Sire, 1986]
After disliking their other albums instantly, I was confused enough by my instant attraction to table this one, especially since I had no stomach for the comparisons I knew an investigation would entail. And indeed, I still can't stand the others. But here Morrissey wears his wit on his sleeve, dishing the queen like Johnny Rotten never did and kissing off a day-job boss who's no Mr. Sellack. This makes it easier to go along on his moonier escapades, like when he reveals that looks and fame don't guarantee a good social life. Which gives you time to notice the tunes, the guitars, the backup munchkins. B+

Louder Than Bombs [Sire, 1987]
Supposedly, Johnny Marr's unobtrusive virtuosity and subtle hooks saved Morrissey from drowning in his own self-involved wit, but on this U.S.-only retrospective of twenty-four previously uncollected songs I hear Marr and Morrissey gliding along on the crest of the same conversational cadence. Morrissey's nattering volubility can get annoying, but the cadence itself always has its charms, and just when you think you've had it he gets off a good line. One of my favorites goes "Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera." B+

Strangeways, Here We Come [Sire, 1987]
Having conquered my wimpophobia to where I reflexively enjoy the supple smarts of their sound, I bore down anticipating even tastier goodies, and now I must face facts. In three of these songs somebody's dead or dying, in three more somebody contemplates murder, and in the rest somebody's in a selfish pet of the sort that led to the aforementioned threats. So the liveliest tracks are where somebody's dead or dying: AIDS song, biz song, song about how selfish and petty you feel when somebody you've raged at actually dies. B

Rank [Sire, 1988]
Morrissey and Marr were nearing the end of the trail by the October '86 concert where this de facto retrospective was recorded. The songs are choice in that live best-of-way and the performances are spirited enough, but the chemistry is by formula, if you know what I mean. Those who thought them too delicate will get something out of it. But they weren't. B