The Smiths - The Smiths (1984), 8/10

Practically every track on this record is a gem and contains a timeless quality. The weakest are perhaps "Reel Around the Fountain" and more notably "This Charming Man" from the American release. The song's absence on the primary UK release that I own and am evaluating, I personally find to be an advantage both from an album flow and quality standpoint. It is far and above their most popular single from the album, but I don't care for it in comparison and in conjunction with the rest, especially where it is placed in this collection of songs. I do thoroughly enjoy "Reel Around the Fountain" but it is just the weakest on the record when considering the album’s aesthetic and energy. Side note that this is Joe Dallesandro yet again featured on the cover art (see the Stones' Sticky Fingers). All of that aside, it's no surprise that this record is filled with some of my all-time favorite songwriting. What's not to love about Morrissey's poetic lyrics, Johnny Marr's masterful chiming guitar work and compositions, Andy Rourke's foundational and passionate performances, Mike Joyce's tight and perfectly balanced drumming, John Porter's sparse and beautiful production; it all melds together perfectly to create one of the best albums from the eighties, bar none. "Reel Around the Fountain" is a tame but sound opener followed by "You've Got Everything Now" with its wonderful groove, and here we start to hear Morrisey's glorious falsetto creeping in, despite that it can be hit or miss depending on how loose or liberal he gets with the crooning and a divisive topic altogether; as with many properties of their music, you'll either love it or hate it. I find that it works quite well for these particular songs as opposed to the latter half of their discography when Morrissey reigns in his wild approach to performance for a delicate, matured one. Then "Miserable Lie" lulls us into a false, yet satisfying sense of calm just before the band accelerates into a joyous, rapturous melody. We get more falsetto here and jangly western licks from Marr. The cleverly titled "Pretty Girls Make Graves" boasts a haunting rhythm and message of the dangers of attraction, with Annalisa Jablonska's first quick contribution, and offers a perfectly seamless transition into "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" both melodically and thematically. This is where on the American version we get "This Charming Man", or in our case the frantic "Still Ill", one of the most haunting and bittersweet Smiths tracks. We then launch into one of the strongest singular tracks in "Hand in Glove", with clever percussive rhythm, cutting tone, and one of Andy Rourke's most memorable contributions on the record. "What Difference Does It Make?" is another very impressionable track and the initial single; this makes sense as it has the most memorable chanting chorus on the record. It also contains a pleasing use of ambient noise and tone, and more droning falsetto to close. One of the most grounded arcs comes in "I Don't Owe You Anything". Paul Carrack's contribution on the organ plays beautifully and adds just the right infusion of soft romanticism needed to make the initial melody soar. We close with "Suffer Little Children" that offers some of Morrissey's most important, yet dark lyrics along with the moaning and swaying guitar melody. There is not a more satisfying album experience from the Smiths and that is quite a statement when it comes to a group with such a strong, focused catalogue. Of course its aesthetic is singular and requires a certain disposition from the listener, especially when considering Morrisey’s vocal performances, not even considering his hard to love quality as a person, and the tone displaying quite melancholic tendencies. If this all strikes your fancy, you will likely enjoy their follow up Meat Is Murder, and while the rest of their work has a different approach to sound they still draw from many of the same inspirations. This is all a matter of taste, but when fully aligning, create a soul mate of sorts for the downtrodden. The performances are tight, the melodies unmatched, and all come together to set the tone for a culture-defining record.