Feb 292012

Strange Days Indeed!

“I couldn’t believe it,” recounted popular Rock Town Hall moderator Mr. Moderator to an anonymous RTH Labs Hotline operator, “I was painting our upstairs bathroom while playing the ‘Elvis Costello’ channel on Pandora when a jangly song came on that sounded like something The Smiths might do…but it wasn’t the slightest bit annoying!” Mr. Moderator quickly placed the paint roller back in the tray, washed his hands, and ran to his bedroom stereo to see what was playing. Sure enough it was The Smiths’ “Is It Really So Strange?”, a song he couldn’t place ever having heard before, not even in women’s dorm rooms from his college days.

[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/The-Smiths_01_Is-it-Really-So-Strange-John-Peel-session-12-2-86.mp3|titles=The Smiths, “Is it Really So Strange”]

Mr. Moderator stood before the speakers and used all of his immense powers of concentration and critical thinking to see if he could determine that the song, like all previous Smiths songs he’d heard before, did in deed suck thanks to Morrissey’s whiny vocals and ill-defined melodies. But the song in no way sucked. He couldn’t even demean the song as “wimpy.” That’s when he called the RTH Labs Hotline.

“I’d tried liking The Smiths—even the slightest bit—over the years,” Mr. Mod explained, “but I was always put off by Morrissey’s aimless vocals and resentful of the mystifying ‘guitar god’ status granted to Johnny Marr.” He continues, “One week I even immersed myself in solo Morrissey records and found I liked them better than the stuff he did with The Smiths.” He then tried listening to The Smiths again but still couldn’t understand what people heard in those records. “The solo Morrissey stuff wasn’t too bad, though. Maybe it was the influence of Mick Ronson that gave him some focus,” he muses. “This Smith song, however, is as solid as the best of those solo records. Morrissey within the song’s rhythm, and I even like Marr’s guitar playing!”

RTH Labs is currently investigating why this particular Smiths song is so much better than anything else the Moderator has ever heard by the band. Your input will be added to the investigation.


  26 Responses to “BREAKING NEWS: Mr. Moderator Wholly Embraces a Smiths Song; RTH Labs to Investigate “Strange” Phenomenon”

  1. bostonhistorian

    Maybe he wasn’t in women’s dorm rooms enough during college?

  2. misterioso

    That’s great, Mod! Congratulations! But the song still sucks and I bailed on it at around the 30 second mark. Morrissey’s voice is so far off the deep end of unlistenable that I hardly noticed how crappy the production is. But if you’re feeling better about yourself, then high fives! And I’ll be counting the days until your big “Hey, the Housemartins Aren’t All That Bad!” posting.

  3. tonyola

    Maybe “Is It Really So Strange?” doesn’t suck so bad for a Smiths song, but on an absolute scale, it still sucks. The least sucky song by the Smiths is “How Soon Is Now”, which is saved from precious weenie-dom by the interesting backing music.

  4. machinery

    Hooray. Here I was going to make a snide comment about this song kinda sucking — and that maybe Mr Mod had some paint in his ears — but my good RTH brethren beat me to it!

    Sound like every other Smiths song to me. The faux country lick is icky, too.

  5. ladymisskirroyale

    I am weeping with what I believe to be joy. I am so verklempt that I am unable to comment further.

  6. BigSteve

    Machinery, that’s what’s great about the Mod’s reaction — Is It Really So Strange? is not an outlier in the Smiths canon. This is pretty much what the Smiths sound like, and it’s a pretty standard Morrissey lyric. I think he was trying too hard before. Maybe a song at a time when his guard is down is the way to go.

  7. Bullshit – I think! This is the first Smiths song I’ve heard in which Morrissey sings on rhythm, within the rhythmic structure of the song. Take away the notes and the rhythm of his vocal line in this song lines up with the song’s rhythm. Usually he’s all over the place rhythmically, like his voice is a theremin. If I’m wrong, please direct me to another Smiths song in which he’s not smearing the song’s rhythmic lines. (And don’t tell me something like it’s his version of “the blues.”) For once he sings as straight as someone like Robert Smith, and I can appreciate the song’s light, jangly arrangement. Even the Bad Attitude Club should admit that this song is no worse than any of those Herman’s Hermits b-sides E. Pluribus Gergely used to tell us were equal to the best of any of the Beatles’ compositions they gave away to the likes of Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas!

  8. To confirm, I’m listening to as much as I can bear of a number of songs. There’s a song called “Panic” in which Morrissey does, more or less, sing within the song’s rhythm, but the music is so generic it’s like I’m overhearing a kid singing along to the music coming out of the Brady Bunch’s radio.

    There’s a song called “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” that cruises along in a way that doesn’t bother me too much and that has some vocal rhythm to it, or at least as the super-light rhythm of the song can bear, then Morrissey jumps up to some ridiculous falsetto that has nothing to do with the song. His melodies are not intuitive; he takes ridiculous leaps just because he can – and I don’t think he’s nailing the notes. It’s like he feels he’s got the right to free expression. Fuck free expression! I want to listen to a song. I want to anticipate what’s coming next. I need rhythm. The Smiths don’t practice the rhythm method when it comes to vocals.

    Maybe this is the kind of song you had in mind, BigSteve, “Girlfriend in a Coma.” Maybe there are a lot more songs like this that I couldn’t get to every time I ran from a dorm room blasting that shitty “How Soon Is Now” song. This has what I would call a rhythmic, intuitive vocal, like the stuff I can at least mildly enjoy by a band like The Cure:


    Meanwhile, here’s another song that ruins a decent verse with yet another of his stock “free expression” verses:


    Do 3 out of 4 Smiths songs have essentially this chorus? That chorus is a waste of my time.

  9. I think Mr Mod is drawn to more rythmic and bouncy drums, and phrasing. Also, I think it is a tighter and more defined song structure than most of the other Smiths songs – at least amongst the handful of songs I know

    The beginning and middle part main melody is very similar to somthing else..it is driving me crazy trying to figure it out.

  10. I’m not much of a Smiths fan but I don’t really see why this song is the one that broke through for you. I agree that How Soon Is Now is a turd that has been propped up by a 2 second snippet of cool guitar tone. There’s no melody or substance to that song once you remove the bit with the tremolo/slide guitar, and whoever co-opted it for that Hippie Chick song put it to much better use.

    But as a non Smiths fan, I ask, what don’t you like about:
    Big Mouth Strikes Again
    Vicar In A Tutu
    This Charming Man
    Girlfriend In A Coma

  11. hrrundivbakshi

    The RTH Labs 24-hour medical care center needs to write you a referral to a qualified counselor — because this is clearly a case of you trying too hard to find stuff to like in a band you hate yourself for hating.

    The question is “why”? Why do you devote so much mental energy to finding things to like in this song’s warmed-over, faux-60s British invasion jangles and snare hits? I dislike this just about as much as I dislike Oasis, and for very similar reasons. If you insist on performing a tribute to the great British music of yesteryear, at least do a good one.

    The only Smiths song I ever really liked — and I have to say I *really* like it — is that one that says “I am huuuuman and I need to be loooved… just like everybody else does.” At least that one sounds fresh and exciting. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the main reason it’s so great is because it really ROCKS — something this song does not.

  12. tonyola

    The song you reference is “How Soon is Now” – the one Mod and cdm offhandedly dismiss as a turd. It’s the one Smiths song I like too, and that’s because it’s musically adventurous and hypnotic. I guess Mod and cdm prefer boring jangle to interesting groove.

  13. “How Soon Is Now” sucks. cdm was right to back me on that. You guys are all snookered by the intro guitar riff. You so badly want that band to rock just a little that you’re willing to accept that song hook, line, and sinker. At the risk of sounding like my big brother, trust me; it’s never too late to recant.

  14. tonyola

    “You guys are all snookered by the intro guitar riff. You so badly want that band to rock just a little that you’re willing to accept that song hook, line, and sinker.”

    I could say the exact same thing to you about your recent defense of Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel”. May you get the Clockwork Orange treatment with “The Boy With the Thorn In His Side” on endless loop.


  15. shonuffnyesido

    Its a shame Mr Moderator tries to express his admiration for a Smiths song and you guys beat up on him. Don’t let them get you down Mr Mod.

  16. Mod, I think you give the song too much credit by calling the intro guitar bit a riff. It’s really just a heavily tremoloed chord.

    Here it is attached to an actual melody in the Hippie Chick. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNYv3PHPd6M

    Bonus for Hurrundi: The lyrics appear to be bad mouthing hippie chicks.

  17. Tony, two of the songs that I suggested (Vicar and Bigmouth) don’t really have jangle in them. And “musically adventurous” has worth but isn’t in and of itself a virtue. Paradise Theater was pretty musically adventurous.

  18. Pretty good list. I’m was not a huge fan either, but have come to appreciate them over time. Perhaps I am mellowing in my old age.

    I also liked Johnny Marr + The Healers album from about 10 years ago — didn’t really come across live for me but the CD sounds pretty cool.

  19. I already touched on “Girlfriend in a Coma.” That song is bearable.

    “Big Mouth Strikes Again”: The riff just plays on while Morrissey makes up sing-songy melodies. Then the drummer plays a big snare roll while the guitarists bear down for a few measures. Then Morrissey picks up where he left off. This song makes the structure of a typical REM song seem interesting and varied.

    “Vicar in a Tutu”: I wasn’t familiar with this song. It has the same benefits as the song I liked and the stuff I’ve liked more than expected from Morrissey’s solo albums: a definite ’50s/early ’60s-based rhythm and vocal phrasing that plays off that rhythm. And he mostly avoids “free expression” melodies until the end, when a modicum of free expression is allowed.

    “This Charming Man”: I know this song and hate it. Right from the start it’s got those chorused “island” guitars that English bands from that era loved coupled with moaning free expression vocals. Should I be paying attention to his lyrics when he’s going on and on with no structure that I can anticipate?

    Thanks for exposing me to “Vicar in a Tutu.”

  20. I’ve come out of the Smiths closet here before. I mostly find their excessive moments exceedingly funny. The original post is one of their better moments. Mod may like this one:
    I think it’s the hardest rocking Smith’s song, Morrissey’s even uses his inside voice on that part in the chorus that starts with “It makes none…”. He gets a bit screamy toward the end – but therein lies the funny.

  21. This isn’t bad as Smiths song go. This definitely helps me understand what I went through the other day.

  22. BigSteve

    Thanks, k., this is the song that immediately popped into my head when the requirement that vocals be “on the beat” was asserted. This is a rule I had been unaware of. Before reading through all of the subsequent posts I was considering posting that clip of What Difference Does It Make as well, but then I remember the ‘coo coo for Cocoa Puffs’ falsetto part at the end, and I was worried about the effect it might have on the Mod’s budding Smithophilia.

    Trying to talk Mod, or anyone really, into liking what they don’t like is a fool’s errand. But I do think hvb’s comment that the Smiths are “a band you hate yourself for hating” was perceptive.

  23. To dream the impossible dream, my friend.

  24. My favorite Smiths’ song is also the outlier, “How Soon is Now?” The clumsy vocal rhythms bother me when the Smiths do their typical lighter, poppy sound, but on top of the drone, looping backing track, I think that singing is dramatic and humorous at the same time. I also give it big points for the great title.

    Here’s a cover of “What Difference Does It Make”. I love this and the original does not work for me at all. Again, Morrissey’s singing is just too clumsy to enjoy.


  25. jeangray

    What is wrong with ya’ll??? “The Queen is Dead” is their hardest rocking track. Criminy!

  26. tonyola

    But it still has Morrisey singing throughout. Demerits for that.

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