Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Smiths 2: Hatful Of Hollow

It displays an awful lot of hubris for a band to issue an LP of rarities as their second album, but in the Smiths’ case, it worked. Hatful Of Hollow crams 16 tracks onto two sides of an LP, alternating between singles, their B-sides and BBC recordings. The quantity of music is more than justified by their quality.
UK record-buyers and artists alike staunchly supported the single as statements just as important as an album, even as late as 1984. The dizzying “William, It Was Really Nothing” is an exercise in brevity, as is its B-side “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”, both classics on their own. But those who sprang for the 12-inch single got the monster that is “How Soon Is Now?”, included here in its six-minute splendor of tremolo and whine. (A favorite moment: “Whistle While You Work” whistled, naturally, about four minutes in.) “Hand In Glove” re-appears in its single mix, the biggest difference being the fade-in opening and fade-out ending. “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” transcends its potential as a target with a perfect arrangement, while “Girl Afraid” (again, 12-inch only) expertly paints the men-are-from-Mars dilemma.
The BBC takes generally pre-date the versions on the album, and because they’re recorded better, sound better. “What Difference Does It Make?” has even more punk energy, while “This Charming Man” is played slightly jauntier, but not necessarily better. “Still Ill” has an incongruous harmonica over the drum intro and outro; likewise, stripped of the piano and organ, “Reel Around The Fountain” crackles and builds tension on its own. “You’ve Got Everything Now” doesn’t break the tie, unfortunately.
That leaves a handful of songs that fans weren’t necessarily getting for the second time, unless they taped them off the radio. “These Things Take Time” is a great performance, well constructed, and should have gone on the debut. “Handsome Devil” is taken at a furious pace with little subtlety (“let me get my hands on your mammary glands” indeed). Musically, it’s a minor-key version of “This Charming Man”; sing the lyrics for that one over this and you’ll find they match up well. “Accept Yourself” is the first and last time Morrissey would offer anything resembling a chin-up pep talk, while the band keeps up with itself over some tempo changes. Contrast that with the somber subject matter of “This Night Has Opened My Eyes”, here in its only recorded incarnation, and one that really spotlights the band’s use of dynamics. How he could come up with such a deep lyric is explained by its being adapted from one of his favorite plays. A personal favorite is “Back To The Old House”, electric in its B-side guise, but here a gorgeous acoustic meditation, and a better match for the melancholy lyrics.
Hatful Of Hollow wouldn’t be released in the US for another ten years, after the band’s catalog had already become somewhat muddled. We’ve tried to stick with American chronologies throughout the history of this blog, but in a case like this we feel we can justify the exception—and particularly when it was such a popular import to begin with. Despite its repetition, it’s superior to their first album, and comes much better recommended.

The Smiths Hatful Of Hollow (1984)—

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