16

Oct 12

The Smiths: “Bigmouth Strikes Again”

The Smiths -- The Queen Is Dead

A bit of visual punnery
to go with the verbal.

Play

Once again I find myself posting a song by a group that I can’t believe I’m only now getting around to writing about on Reselect. Then again, I suppose that there are so many worthy groups out there that it’s inevitably going to happen. In any case, this time it’s the Smiths. I was a big fan of them in college, as soon as I heard the opening tremoloed chords of “How Soon Is Now?” upon its release early in my sophomore year (damn, there I go dating myself again). To say that I was impressed on first listen would be an understatement — I recall being fairly blown away by the epic sound of that guitar (courtesy of Johnny Marr, as I would soon discover). And then Morrissey’s lamenting vocals suited the lyrics and feel of the song perfectly.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the Smiths; I was aware of songs from their first album. But they hadn’t made nearly the impression that Meat Is Murder did. With “How Soon Is Now?” as its emotional centerpiece (on my U.S. copy, anyway, quickly added to the original U.K. release, which didn’t have it — although on my copy it’s still not noted on the sleeve), it was a powerful record.

1986’s The Queen Is Dead, however, was the album that cemented the Smiths’ greatness for me. As much as Morrissey’s distinctive vocals, though, it was Marr’s great, inventive guitar work that really did it for me. His way with acoustic guitar was as much to my liking as his effects-laden sound on “How Soon Is Now?” And the song that hit the sweet spot most directly was “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” It’s a brisk, driving song, never letting up on the galloping acoustic guitar that introduces it. The electric riff that comes in after the first bridge (“Now I know how Joan of Arc felt . . .”) only improves it further. The quirky helium vocal accompaniment (which is also Morrissey, I think) adds an aurally humorous touch that brings a smile at the same time that the rest of the song has your head bopping along in time. Although even before then, the dark humor of the lyrics should have already accomplished that:

Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking
When I said I’d like to smash every tooth
In your head

Following up “Bigmouth Strikes Again” on The Queen Is Dead with “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side” was a wise move, easing the listener out of “Bigmouth” without dropping them into a completely different mood too soon. Oddly, it’s possible for a following song to improve the one before it (and I’m not referring to segues, in this case), and whether Marr and Morrissey (who together also produced the album) meant to do that or not, that’s exactly what happened. But “Bigmouth Strikes Again” stands powerfully on its own as one of the Smiths’ greatest songs, on one of the best albums of the ’80s.

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