Friday, January 28, 2011

The Smiths - Demos and Instrumentals Side Two

This is my review of the second side of the demos, instrumental and studio outtakes from The Smiths.

The link to the original blog post that alerted me to the existence of the Demo’s LP is here:

Ask (early demo take)

The song sounds almost complete even at this early stage in its development. There is noticeable less guitars on this version and the song kicks off with clever interplay between Andy Rouke’s bassline and Mike Joyce’s drums before the guitars chip in. Johnny Marr’s single guitar beautifully carves out the chord structure and the instrumental coda wonderfully played.

Is it Really So Strange (Studio recording)

Is it Really So Strange is another song that was only released in its Peel Session version. This time as the b-side of Sheila Take A Bow. The studio recording features some slightly different lyrics “I found a tiny tidy house..”, different phrasing from Morrissey and a less frantic pace. Part of Johnny Marr’s guitar work is close to the sound of the reverbed soaked effect of How Soon is Now. This phrasing is mixed fairly low in the mix but adds a touch of colour that is missing from the peel session version. I think I prefer this take.

Shoplifters of The World Unite (Instrumental)

This take of Shoplifters starts much darker and harder than the single version. The swampy guitars are given more room to breathe and the rhythm is much tighter. Mike Joyce’s drums have a great harsh kick that powers the song along. The guitar break is a little less focussed but still glorious. Lovely interplay between the guitars and bass in the coda as well. The only pity is that this lacks a guide vocal.

Shelia Take a Bow (John Porter Version)

A much more sparkling arrangement than the single. A electric sitar echo’s the bassline. This version is very T Rex with the slashing guitars and thumping glam beat. It stands out as a new sound for the band and I think it is a better version than the one released.

Girlfriend in a Coma (Early Take)

This is the track that seems to have been causing the biggest stir on the internet and blogs. The Smith’s playing reggae! I must admit my heart sunk as I thought of Ob La De Ob La Da. I should have had more faith! In truth to my ears the arrangement is much close to Ska than full on reggae. This makes sense when you think of Suedehead and the kind of music listened to by 1970’s skinheads. The guitar part is all chicken strach funk with a lilting beating and bouncing bassline. The song has always been my least favourite Smith’s single a trite throw away trifle. This version is miles better than the official version, its shows a band willing to attempt different sounds and it would have been great to see how the indie masses (myself included) would have greeted it release.

Death of Disco Dancer (1st Take)

This early version of one of the highlights of Strangeways Here We Come lacks the haunting production of the released version but for a first take its frankly amazing. It is the sound of a band at the height of their powers with a musical understanding that allows the song to ebb and flow naturally. Morrissey vocal is pitched slightly differently and the vocal phrasing varies from the later version. There is also a prolonged whisling part in the mix. Is it Morrissey? The version extends out musically showcasing just how tight the band were at this point. To think it all fell apart so soon afterwards.

Paint a Vulgar Picture (Early Take)

The intro on this version sound strangely flat compared to the Strangeways version. Andy Rouke’s bassline is much higher in the mix carrying the melody. The guitars lack the punch and sparkle of the fully studio release. Slightly different lyrics as Morrissey sings “It’s too late to tell him, how great he really was..” in the first first and then in a later verse “..and they paint a vulgar picture of they way they say that you were..” and at the very end its repeated with a twist “ and they paint a vulgar picture of the way you really were”. So we know were the title came from now! Morrissey seems to tripping over the words as the arrangement hasn’t yet been nailed down.

Heavy Track (instrumental 1987)

An instrumental outtake from the Strangeways sessions. As the title suggests this is the band in much heavier territory. A really thumping backing tracking close to the indie metal sound of London than anything else the band recorded. It does seem to be more about the groove than melody at this point in its construction and isn’t as interesting as I Misses You. I assume it was included to signpost the sound the band might have been developing if they had continued post Strangeways.

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