Monday, May 21, 2018

1984 - Hatful of Hollow

Readers of AM know the issue we have with compilations and best of LPs. With little exception, compilations don't even count (record label equivalents of the mix tape). There are exceptions like The Best of Leonard Cohen, or The Cure's Standing on a Beach (more of a survey or an evolution), and yet Rough Trade's release, Hatful of Hollow, just seven months after the eponymous The Smiths, is nearly everyone on the planet's first glimpse of the 80's most important band. Keep in mind that AM's fave Smiths' offering, as it is everyone's, is 1985's The Queen is Dead, but it's Hatful of Hollow that each of us distinctly remembers putting on the turntable the first time out. 

The problem with the debut was that the production had little punch, leaving each track diluted and soulless, and since half the songs on the debut are presented live on Hatful Of Hollow, this compilation had value added appeal. The tracks that work best are "Reel Around The Fountain" (the drums so booming that it sounds like a different song) and an acoustic "This Charming Man" that is far more charming than the original cut, like it did have something to wear.  "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" and the dense, complex "How Soon Is Now," a track previously available only on the "William" 12" and a signature Smiths tune, illustrated the new heights to which the band so quickly aspired and arrived. Yet pride of place should perhaps go to a track never before available on vinyl, the Peel Sessions' version of "This Night Has Opened My Eyes," a sordid but plaintive tale of a young mother getting rid of an unwanted baby in which Morrissey's vivid observation of the woman's conflicting emotions does nothing to detract from the impact of the gruesome tragedy. 

Still, the most staggering changes in the months that separate The Smiths from Hatful are not in Morrissey's beguiling, ambivalent obsessions, which have remained similar throughout and since, but in the flowering of Johnny Marr into one of the era's truly great instrumentalists. Compare the monosyllabic tonality of his early picking with the cascading mandolins that close "Please Please Please" and its clear just how much he'd matured, his role in the band worthy of equal billing, a fact compounded on the awesome, aforementioned "How Soon is Now." With Morrissey's vocals buried deep in a clammy, claustrophobic mix, Marr - adroitly supported by the two unsung Smiths (what were there names?) - unleashes a barrage of multi-tracked psychedelic rockabilly, his counterpart's Duane Eddy twang absorbed in an eerie quagmire of quivering guitar noise. Magnificent! It's a patchy, erratic affair and all the better for it. 

But back to the calculated mystique of Morrissey: the man-child who mastered the knack of giving away absolutely nothing while appearing to be the most frank, disarming, and explicit wordsmith in music. For all their sexual ambivalence and lyrical unorthodoxy, his songs are universal in the vulnerabilities and desires they seek to express. The Smiths were the first band that showed us that emotions and vulnerability were not the privilege of women only. It's a paradox that only the greatest of poets can extol. At 21, Morrissey taught me everything I needed to know, and nothing I didn't already. Hatful was the LP that I find the most significant in my formative years in that it appealed to me intellectually (he even invented a new word in its title), sensually, emotionally, leaving me with questions, more questions than answers, but kicking me firmly in the ass, knocking me down, calling me names and then taunting me to get back up, sissy (which I did), giving me the impetus to fight battles I might not win (and didn't). And I got up, all bloody with a black eye yelling, "Fuck you." It was an album that let me cry about it all I wanted, but to stand tough, tears in my eyes, fists clenched and be a man, a charming man, the son and the heir (or is it the sun and the air?) and say, "For once in my life, let me get what I want." It didn't matter that that rarely happened - then