Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Smiths - Hatful of Hollow

Hatful of Hollow (1984) *****

A compilation of alternate-version BBC recordings from their debut LP, with a pair of A/B-sides tossed in the jambalaya (or mince pie, or whatever is the pasty limey equivalent) is, as a general rule of thumb, not the best place to start with most bands, much less their definitive statement and the one place to go if you need your fix of mope and mockery.  But Morrissey & Marr have always been an eccentric odd couple, and it's the brave combo of a fey acolyte of Oscar Wilde fronting a rock-steady band of Manchester-muck blokes that (partially, only partially) makes the Smiths so special.  All but a handful of the tracks from the debut are present here in slightly different but somehow infinitely superior form (the production!  the production!), slightly rawer and thinner and more vital.  Less stiff and prematurely ossified, too.  And, as I noted in my previous review, none of the missing five songs are any great shakes, so the debut is now made superfluously redundant and unequivocally unnecessary.  The title may be slang for a batch of emptiness (which the band may have felt a quickie rip-off of radio sessions was - fair warning to fans clever enough to grok the pun, during those o-heady days of Morrisseymania in dear Old Blightey), but never you mind.  This is the only Smiths longplayer I can safely slip on and enjoy from start to finish - the other ones I just cherry pick the selected tunes I actually like and ignore the rest.

I know, you say it's gruesome that someone so handsome should care, so I shall attend to the material not already presented a few months earlier on the debut.  "William, It Was Really Nothing" sprightly springs us into this silver platter with a typical Marr jingle-shimmer, his high-end-note guitar bouncily slicing like slivers of sweet sunlight through the blinds, while Morrissey spins a tale of hum-drum towns where fat girls offer hands in marriage and are even so presumptuous as to purchase the ring.  Of its pair of B-sides, "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" (almost could be a James Brown title) is a pleasant, slightly hush-haunting acoustic ballad; but how did the classic indie-groove mid-tempo shuffle of tremolo & trepidation, "How Soon Is Now?" originally see existence as a B-side?  John Peel program listeners all over Britain may have choked back the explicable urge to smack Morrissey on the ear, with his "I am human and I need to be loved!" wobbly warbling (he's not wearing his heart on his sleeve, he's wiping his sobbing tear-stained snot on his sleeve), but were mollified as Marr's heavily tremoloed guitar groove won out in the end.

Both "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" and its B-side, "Girl Afraid" showcase Morrissey at his lyrical peak, with the former making a strong case for him as one of the wittiest gay English songwriters since Noel Coward, and the latter moodily dissecting the mating dance between those of us unfortunate to be born heterosexual.  Happy in the haze of a drunken hour, the self-help bromides "You've Got Everything Now" so "Accept Yourself" jump'n'thud in jolly contrast to the snootful of jaded lyricism (others conquered love but I ran, no I've never had a job because I'm too shy).  And to round this review off, there's "This Night Has Opened My Eyes", a tender '50s-style ballad concerning infanticide, which oddly enough was the only song that was not re-recorded for another release.  This is your only regular-release LP to find it on, completists.  Fine though this drowned baby may be, she's not worth the price of admission all by her lonesome self, but if you would like the debut shorn of its duller songs, and with the good songs vastly improved, and several singles thrown into the mix, this is one-stop shopping for a taste of the early Smiths.

Oh, and Peanuts comics set to Smiths lyrics!

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