The Smiths' Louder Than Bombs turns 25 years old today
Or at least Morrissey wouldn't have. It's the mystery, the unavailability, that is the juice of any U.S. phenomenon -- and that is what Americans responded to in the A-sexual, gender swinging Morrissey.
Two months after the Smiths breakup, their final album, Strangeways Here We Come, became their biggest selling album in the U.S., and six months after that Morrissey's solo Viva Hate (an obvious reference to his dearly departed former band) was a bigger smash in America than the Smiths could have dreamed, with the video for "Suedehead" receiving exceptional airplay on MTV.
Morrissey would eventually move to Los Angeles, developing an unexpected following with the macho, working class Latino boys of East L.A., who would host annual conventions in his honor (for more on this see the documentary Is It Really So Strange? and Chuck Klosterman's excellent essay "Viva Morrissey!")
The groundwork for this West Coast Mozzery was laid when The Smiths decided to release Louder Than Bombs in the U.S. The compilation is loaded with themes that speak to an American audience, even more than the sexually repressed British. In the working class environs of '80s Manchester, employment proved your worth, but in "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," Morrissey bemoans "I was looking for a job, and then I found a job, and heaven knows I'm miserable now," a sentiment often mirrored in the beloved American author, Charles Bukowski.
America's narcissism is embodied in "William It Was Really Nothing" ("I don't dream about anyone except myself") or in "Hand In Glove" ("the sun shines out of our behinds"), which also encapsulates the unattainability at the heart of the American dream ("the good life is out there somewhere"). Morrissey often laments his homeland's sober practicality, preferring a romantic, more dramatic lens to view the world through. And what nation is more impractical and romantic than the U.S.A.?
Here, we have a quixotic view of crime and criminals (Billy the Kid, James Dean), as does the songs of Louder Than Bombs, such as "Sweet and Tender Hooligan" and "Shoplifters of the World Unite". Some may point to Morrissey's later work, such as You Are the Quarry's "America Is Not the World," where the Mozzer croons "America, your head's too big/ Because America, your belly's too big." But honestly, what is more American than hating America? Any argument to the contrary needs simply reference the success of Michael Moore.
Yes, Louder Than Bombs is full of the paradoxical self-loathing/self-aggrandizing sentiments that make up Morrissey. He is vain, depressed, romantic and full of complaints: And that is why America loves him. He is just like us.
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