Nipper Heard of 'Em

The Smiths

Resident record nerd Mike Nipper "knows everything about music"—but only music relating to late-'50s R&B, '90s noise and garage, and anything Steve-Martin-on-banjo. For this column, we forced him to listen to the Smiths because he refuses to listen to the Smiths and that's fucking ridiculous.


The Queen Is Dead

(Rough Trade/Sire)

Right. I can do this. My boss, who has been threatening to assign me a Never Heard of 'Em for, like, forever, finally got around to it. Y'all know it's usually cherub-faced Anna "newbie to all recorded music save for K-pop and '90s radio hits" Minard covering this beat, but she's currently in Alaska jackalope hunting.

Okay, my assignment: the Smiths' The Queen Is Dead album. Fucking FUCK!! This album was lovingly chosen for me after a recent office discussion in which I revealed I'd never, EVER listened to any Smiths song all the way through. Seriously, I made it through the '80s, '90s, aughties, and almost HALF our current decade without listening to a single entire Smiths track. Everyone was shocked. I understand that to some folks, the Smiths ARE "the Kinks" of alternative rock, but their very English made-in-the-'80s droopiness was never my thing. C'mon, guys, I never had an asymmetrical! Maybe it's 'cause in 1986 I was already too old to connect, but it's more likely that since I was a hardcore kid, there was ZERO appeal. I wanted raw, fast, loud, AND revolution to soundtrack my life; anything that sounded like it could be on the radio had no place in my tape deck! And the Smiths had a hella radio-hopeful sound: proper pop-song phrasing, Johnny Marr's overly flanged/echo-saturated guitar, and Moz's "AHHH"-filled voice. Goddamn, he still sounds like Kermit the Frog tryna bellow torch songs in the shower—NOPE ON A ROPE!

I've now listened to the album beginning to end THREE times. The first/title track, "The Queen Is Dead," is a HUGE pop song that I'd imagine opened their live shows—the intro playing into the feedback, the drums, then BOOM, lights come up and Moz and co. strike proper dramatic ROCK poses, or whatever. Next is "Frankly, Mr. Shankly." Uh... reggae? The Smiths work in a reggae riff? Fucking WEIRD!! The next track, "I Know It's Over," wasn't over fast enough. "Never Had No One Ever" is okay. The guitar effects are still distracting, but the progression and dynamics I CAN TOLERATE. Sheesh, the rest of the album, except for "Bigmouth Strikes Again," faded indistinguishably into some kinda piercing static, aka '80s college rock. BLECH!

Looks like the Smiths still ain't my thing, and visiting this record didn't convert me. Hearing it only reminded me how in high school I was surrounded by cloistered, awkward, upper-/middle-class brainiacs, rural skaters, Scotchgard™-huffing goths, closeted queer kids, and too much air conditioning.

I'ma give this album a "makes my skin crawl" out of 10. recommended

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Comments (10) RSS

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"...I'd imagine opened their live shows—the intro playing into the feedback, the drums, then BOOM, lights come up and Moz and co. strike proper dramatic ROCK poses"

So, you imagined Spinal Tap?
Posted by galeforcewinds on July 14, 2014 at 10:08 AM · Report this
And this is why Anna is better at this: Less opinions, more actual listening. I don't particularly like the Smith (or even know half of what she writes about) but it makes me want to give it a spin more often than not.
Posted by Andreas on July 14, 2014 at 3:09 PM · Report this
fletc3her 3
I know a review is going to be a downhill slog when I read the word "hardcore". Bonus points on this review for applying it to yourself and not the band!
Posted by fletc3her on July 14, 2014 at 3:13 PM · Report this
Although I share Mike's general disdain/disinterest regarding the Smiths, these columns are better when the listener simply has no idea about the record and therefore no preconceived notions.
Posted by J.R. on July 14, 2014 at 3:35 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 5
i'm trying to imagine what you'd assign me for "never heard of em".

Posted by Max Solomon on July 14, 2014 at 3:51 PM · Report this
Sheree 6
I'm calling OSHA.
Posted by Sheree on July 14, 2014 at 3:51 PM · Report this
Estey 7
Such beauty to this line: 'The next track, "I Know It's Over," wasn't over fast enough.' Thanks, Mike!
Posted by Estey on July 14, 2014 at 4:02 PM · Report this
deadrose 8
You've neatly captured how I've always felt about the Smiths. Well done.
Posted by deadrose on July 14, 2014 at 5:34 PM · Report this
stirwise 9
Y'know, I spent most of the early 90's going to hardcore shows and those punks are the people that got me into the Smiths. One needn't be hardcore to the exclusion of everything else to be authentic.
Posted by stirwise on July 14, 2014 at 9:45 PM · Report this
thelyamhound 10
The "rural skaters" aspect of the Smiths' fan base is more telling than ... well, than you allowed yourself to be told. Fact is, an awful lot of kids in rural areas would never even have heard of punk were it not for the made-in-the-80s droopiness of bands like the Smiths, Depeche Mode, R.E.M., etc., which was about as close to punk as most of us ever had access to before interviews with those artists told us whom they claimed as influences.
Posted by thelyamhound on July 16, 2014 at 1:29 PM · Report this

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