Sunday, May 01, 2005

Jangly guitars and Misunderstood Morrissey

As I'm growing old and increasingly sentimental and nostalgic, thought I'd pull out some of the old "alternative" records I loved in the 80's. Remember jangly guitars? Not really? Those lovely Byrds/Television influenced records of the mid-80's have been mostly forgotten now, especially since Nirvana was the band that finally brought the alternative college music scene to the masses, and they were all about a grungy, heavy-guitar sound (not that there's anything wrong with that).

First played the Feelies: the Good Earth, a very nice record that's a perfect example of the melodic, non-guitar-hero sound of jangly guitar music.

Also listened to the Smiths' The Queen is Dead, one of the greatest rock/pop records ever. Besides featuring the peerless Johnny Marr's gorgeous multi-layered guitar effects, it also has some of Morrissey's best writing. I've always thought Morrissey is rather misunderstood as being about nothing but misery. Which is there, to be sure, but I think there's a lot of humor in his writing that people overlook, especially on The Queen Is Dead:

So I broke into the Palace, with a sponge and rusty spanner
She said, "Eh, I know you and you cannot sing."
I said, "That's nothing you should hear me play piano."

Anyway, if you like beautiful, melodic pop songs, the Smiths made some of the best ever. The combination of Johnny Marr's musical gifts and Morrisey's unique, slightly bent sensibilities made for some great rock/pop recordings. Too bad neither of them has done anything as great on their own.

I agree that musicians from that period had a good sense of humor and the songs were a fun. "Pretty women out walkin with gorillas down my street. . ." is a hilarious opening line. The Replacements sang about some pretty dark subjects, but if you ever saw them in concert, you know that they didn't take themselves too seriously.
Today music seems much darker somehow. The lyrics are all angst-ridden and despairing.
Even disco, with its joyful exuberance ("Shake your groove thing!!") gave way to rap, which seems to be all about hos and bizzes.
But the kids today, they don't know what good is. You can't even dance to the stuff they have now. Sigh. Ponder that while I get some tea and tuck this afgan blanket around my legs.
Indeed, kids today, etc etc etc. ;-)

Actually, you touched on a subject that I had also wanted to write about, but didn't get to, which is that Morrissey, to me, is miserable because he has high ideals and expectations for life, and really is disappointed when they're not fulfilled. He doesn't seem pointlessly angsty and despairing in a nihilistic way, which I never cared for. There were plenty of bands who trafficked in that kind of artificial, exaggerated despair in our time as well, but that does seem to be a more common theme today: oh woe is me, my mom drives a minivan so life just seems so pointless. Yawn. Camper Van Beethoven did a great satire of this in "Club Med Sucks."
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