Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Day 15: A song that describes you

OK, I know this is two days in a row with my '30 Days...' post being a bit on the brief side. But if you'll excuse the glibness...

If I were to take today's entry entirely seriously, I'd probably choose Dylan's 'Visions of Johanna', simply because there's a brief moment in that song which captures my insecurities with such devastating precision that I'm still a little uncomfortable repeating it*. But that's just a few lines, rather than a whole song, so I've gone for the cheap gag instead. 'Cos I tend to talk too much, right? You see what I did there?

Yeah, of course you do. Sorry.

To be honest, apart from the title, 'Bigmouth Strikes Again' isn't especially me (I'm not sure its especially anybody, outside of Morrissey's head). It's still a bloody good song, though, and perfectly encapsulates what I love about The Smiths that is almost entirely-absent from Morrissey's solo career (a subject on which I could elaborate for hours on end, but which boils down, essentially, to "Johnny Marr"). The lyric is a good one, and Morrissey delivers his vocals brilliantly (including the backing vocals on the chorus, sung by Moz but sped up to give the illusion of a female voice, and credited in the sleeve as "Ann Coats" in a joke which probably doesn't make a lot of sense to anyone who's never been to Manchester). But the true beauty is in the way the band play the song.

It's not got an especially-complex chord sequence - not by Smiths standards, anyway, although it's still a fair bit more sophisticated than it sounds at first - and there are no polyrhythms, lead guitar breaks, eccentric arrangements or any of the other flashy tricks generally employed by a band trying to show off their musical chops. Instead, there's simply an impeccably-tight group of musicians wrapping themselves around a melody, with no egos and whip-sharp timing - the guitar break at around 2:10-2:16, in particular, is among the finest displays of right-hand precision which you'll ever hear from anyone this side of Keith Richards. Marr might lack the more overt virtuosity which is the usual hallmark of an iconic guitar hero, but he can still chime out a rhythm with a unique musical voice, which remains almost impossible to imitate - check this out for an example of Morrissey's current live band entirely failing to do this song justice, for instance. How many genuinely great Smiths covers have you ever heard, anyway?

Of course, like all truly great songwriting/performing partnerships, they're both vastly lessened without each other. Morrissey still has a winning way with a turn of phrase or melody, and he's still a terrifically-charismatic performer, both live and on record. Marr remains a wonderful guitarist. But without Marr's instrumental sensitivity, Morrissey's more tedious pub-rock inclinations become dishearteningly-evident, while Marr's incendiary brilliance has been largely wasted on faceless session work, or bands packed out by charisma-free non-entities. He recently described the latest album by The Cribs as being "as good as anything I've done", a statement so mind-bogglingly, self-evidently untrue that one is forced to wonder what on Earth possessed him to say it. Meanwhile, Morrissey's solo career continues along a well-worn path of complete and total adequacy, with a handful of brilliant songs which would, without fail, be vastly improved were they performed by more interesting musicians, and an awful lot of must-try-harder self-indulgence which cries out for the stimulation and challenge which only a true collaborator can provide.

But for those few brief years that Morrissey and Marr were able to set egos aside and collaborate, they created magic. There's probably a lesson to be learned there, somewhere.

*"Little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously / He brags of his misery, likes to live dangerously". If you knew me in my teens/early twenties, you've probably got a fair idea of why that stings me quite so harshly as it does. If not, I doubt I could ever adequately explain it, and I'm not sure I'd want to.

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