None of The Smiths had great experience before joining together in this particular little enterprise, Morrissey had briefly been a member of a couple of bands, although not always as the singer. Still, upon hitching up with Johnny Marr, Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke, he suddenly found himself with an outlet for his writing and dreams. And, nobody had ever quite matched lyrics like these before to what were essentially Rock songs, although quite out of step with other music of the era, especially commercial chart music. The Smiths signed to leading independent label Rough Trade, and released ‘Hand In Glove’ as their debut single. It failed to chart, but that was no real surprise. Morrissey felt as if it should have charted though, there was already a buzz surrounding the group, and ‘Hand In Glove’ with it’s see-sawing harmonica and eloquent lyric mentioning the sun shining out of someone’s behind was indeed quite striking! The second single was ‘This Charming Man’, and although it wasn’t originally on this debut album, it has been present on every single CD edition, so it makes up part of the album now. Fate accompli. Is it any good then? Well….. ‘This Charming Man’ is two minutes, forty two seconds long. Perfect pop single length. The opening guitar figure is VERY distinctive, immediately reminds one of Sixties groups such as The Byrds with it’s ‘jingle jangle’ nature and sound. Morrissey sings, and this is the thing. His voice is pretty, soaring, delicate, poetic. The lyrics are poetry, and good poetry at that. They speak of punctured bicycles, not having a stitch to wear. You know how it goes. A strong bass lines works throughout the song, Morrissey sings wordlessly at times, very beautifully if you allow your ears to hear it that way, without predjudice. An instant classic, and even The Smiths themselves would rarely match the perfect, concise glory of ‘This Charming Man’. I may as well mention the third single while I’m at it. ‘What Difference Does It Make’ isn’t as good a Morrissey vocal or lyric as ‘This Charming Man’, but now it’s Johnny’s turn to shine with a catchy, snappy, bouncy happy melody. The most striking Morrissey moment here is the falsetto ‘wailing’ through the songs close, and very nice and entertaining it is too.
‘Reel Around The Fountain’ opens the record, a six minute story that never quite catches fire musically, but the lyrics are interesting and the closing section of the song beautiful in particular thanks to the higher register of Morrissey’s voice. ‘You’ve Got Everything Now’ is good, “As merry as the days were long, I was right as you were wrong, back at the old grey school, I would win and you would lose”. And, that’s the thing. The song isn’t actually very remarkable if you forget the lyrical content. People could associate with these lyrics, associate with the image and allure of The Smiths as a group, and especially associate with Morrissey himself. “…and you’re a desperate one”, and nobody had ever sang songs for the desperate one’s quite like Morrissey sang them. ‘Miserable Lie’ switches between soft, pretty delicate sections and loud, noisy guitar sections rather uneasily, ‘Pretty Girls Make Graves’ is mid-tempo, with the sound of Johnny Marr to the fore, and Morrissey turning in another striking set of lyrics. ‘The Hand That Rocks The Cradle’ is absolutely gorgeous, delicate and swoon-some, poetic and genuinely touching. And that’s the first half of the album over. ‘This Charming Man’ arrives next ( at least on the CD edition ) and ‘Still Ill’ follows that, with a very identifiable lyric for the ‘desperate’ ones, but also a lyric jam-packed full of tongue in cheek humour. There is a common misconception surrounding Morrissey lyrics, dour and miserable they are not. Not really, and some of the lyrical imagery and scene setting is pretty much unsurpassed if you happen to be a lost romantic type. ‘I Don’t Owe You Anything’ is a beautiful song, enough to reduce The Smiths own drummer Mike Joyce to tears on more than one occasion. ‘Suffer Little Children’ is the second, unquestionable blast of genius on the album alongside ‘This Charming Man’. A lyric telling the story of the moors murders, a beautiful, understated music backing perfectly completing Morrissey telling the horrible tale, but telling it with compassion and sympathy. A genuinely great song, a genuine and often beautiful album.