you wouldn't necessarily think of the Smiths as a musically innovative band... lyrics/persona/presentation etc, obviously, super-innovative ... but musically it wouldn't immediately strike the ear as INNOVATIVE... certainly, they weren't "futuristic" at all... when I first heard them, which was idly catching tracks from those sessions for late night Radio One they did that would later become Hatful of Hollow, I didn't understand the buzz because sonically they felt like a retreat from things like The Associates or Japan.... there was a certain mundanity about the guitars/bass/drums straight rock format.... later, once I'd undergone the Conversion ("This Charming Man", the debut, Barney Hoskyns's NME piece on them) they stood out from the pack as fresh rather than "future music" -- supremely fresh and also distinct, special, unique... there was nothing else like them around
now, thinking about their work, i do think they were innovative in a number of ways, generally more subtle and unspectacular compared with the obviously latest-statest-of-art technology-using outfits of the early-mid-Eighties... but the Smiths were doing things never done before... they just didn't have anything to with the already-becoming-reified notions of "futuristic" that synthpop and electro etc were putting about at the time
much the same applies to U2, with the Edge very clearly a guitar innovator...
who else in the Eighties, i wonder, could be regarded as taking the guitar into new places?
but back to the Smiths: had there ever been a piece of guitar music like this before?
so it was interesting to see Johnny Marr discussing the four Smiths albums over at Spin.com and espousing a sort of commonsensical modernism
on The Smiths:
"I like [the debut] because of what it meant and how people heard it as something new when it came out... We wanted to be a modern band and impress our friends who had good taste and I think we did that."
om the Queen Is Dead:
"When it came to do the third record, the penny dropped for me. I realized that we were being talked about in terms of the greats. And I distinctly remember thinking that the way to be great isn't to try and copy what the greats have already done, but to try your best to do your own thing."
on (his favourite, my least favorite) Strangeways, Here We Come
"Just look at a song like 'Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me.' It sounds like no other rock group before or since. It managed to be beautiful and heavy without having the elements that people usually associate with heavy music."
on the one hand, Marr seems to be scholar of rock history (and would become a collector of guitars owned by famous musicians) just as Morrissey had a fan-critic-curator sensibility, used the record covers to lay out his personal iconography, littered his lyrics with samples from books and movies and so forth... and there are a fair number of musical recyclings or at least resemblances ("Rusholme Ruffians" on Meat Is Murder is loosely based on Elvis Presley's's "His Latest Flame"; parts of the vocal melody to "Shakespeare's Sister" are modeled on a T.Rex track which later surfaced on M's Under the Influence compilation)
on the other hand -- going against these proto-retro traits --there is clearly a great drive to do things--musically, lyrically--never done before... and in Morrissey's case also this insistence on utter uniqueness, a sovereign state of individuality that's at once miraculous and monstrous
the sampling and citations then become less an example of self-as-curator/writing-as-intertext/"there's no such thing as originality", and more like the ravenous expression of will.... a true original is so confident of her sui generis, self-generated splendor, that she confers glory on those she steals from, rather than the other way around (the gilt-by-assocation of most referential/reverential retro rockers)