Saturday, January 12, 2013

Review: 'Songs That Saved Your Life: The Art of The Smiths 1982-1987'

The Smiths didn’t make a lot of records during their flashing five-year career, but the ones they made were sublime enough to intoxicate an enduring cult. And like so many groups with relatively few proper LPs—The Velvet Underground, The Clash, and Jimi Hendrix, for example—The Smiths have a rich enough reservoir of singles, B-sides, and outtakes to warrant Simon Goddard’s track-by-track analysis The Smiths: Songs That Saved Your Life. As first published in 2002, the book did not fully please its author, baring a few errors and a title altered by the publisher. A tick over a decade later, Goddard has nudged his tome closer to his original vision and Titan Books is giving it a fresh republication.

I did not read the book in its original state, so I’m not sure how Songs That Saved Your Life: The Art of The Smiths 1982-1987 differs in this new edition. Considering Goddard’s artisan’s attention to detail, I wouldn’t be surprised if the edits are barely detectable to all but the author (even that title is only slightly different). That’s fine by me, since this book is enough of an achievement to earn Goddard such an indulgence. He conducted extensive interviews and drew on his own keen insights to create a study that is adequately critical and deeply respectful of one of Britain’s finest. As a pretty green Smiths appreciator, I wasn’t sure if a book that delves into a healthy clutch of songs I’ve never heard would hold my attention. Rather, it just roiled my curiosity (and inspired me to snap my purse strings to order the Smiths Complete box set). The writer got me thinking differently about the band too. I always knew that Morrissey was a huge New York Dolls fan (there’s another group whose reputation far outweighs their output!), but could never detect a trace of their swaggering Rock in The Smiths’ shimmering pop. Goddard—and interviewee Johnny Marr, in particular— clued me in to how the Dolls and other harder rocking outfits such as T. Rex and the Stones left an indelible imprint on The Smiths. “Wimp Rock” they are not.

Well-written (I even liked the slightly precious It’s a Wonderful Life conceit used in the prologue), thorough, and now overhauled, Songs That Saved Your Life: The Art of The Smiths 1982-1987 may not save your life, but it will turn you into a Smiths devotee if you aren’t already one. Just be prepared to spend some more money after reading it.

Pre-order the new edition of Songs That Saved Your Life: The Art of The Smiths 1982-1987 at Amazon.com here:
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