Thursday, April 9, 2009

Confirming the suspicion that one's perceptions of a decade are formed by audiovisuals blasted into you at an early age, Stephen Metcalf theorizes that Morrissey and The Smiths came at the right time and place because, well, the eighties were so heartless (he's right about Sting's implacability in the "Every Breath You Take" video, though). In ten years New Order, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, Beastie Boys, and Prince released an untold number of good records between them; they forced us to reckon with the tension between superficiality and depth in music whose import often depended on visual representation as much as audio. But he's aware of the inherent paradox in appreciating The Smiths, especially those dire early albums: for such a mope, Morrissey is so insistent
...It was Thatcherism that made Morrissey. The Iron Lady represented a hardness of purpose, a pitilessness that would allow England once again to produce winners. But also, inevitably, losers. And here is the source of Morrissey's originality. Rock singers had blasted the trumpet of Nietzschean triumph before; they had mewed like Keatsian lambs. But before Morrissey, had anyone done both? In the same breath?
I've opened my heart, I'll make you love me.

Robert Christgau wrote at the time, "These guys impose their post-adolescent sensitivity, thus inspiring the sneaking suspicion that they're less sensitive than they come on." Early Smiths songs like "Accept Yourself" and "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" are cases in point. If I don't have much room for The Smiths these days, I credit my increasing (and relieved) detachment from post-adolescent sensitivity and aesthetic impositions; but when I feel like playing tourist I turn to Louder Than Bombs, whose scrambled chronology creates the mistaken impression that Funny Moz and Serious Moz were hats he discarded at will instead of a pair of argyle socks he had to accustom himself to wear. His latest album Years of Refusal is a return to the jackhammer guitars of the mid nineties; he hasn't come up with any memorable vocal embellishments, unfortunately, or any one-liners worth a second listen. Like Thatcher, the context that made a Morrissey possible – compelling even – has vanished. What remains is history: a vivid but fading memory of hardness and purpose. 

1 comment:

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