Book Review: The Ties That Bind

Rock & Roll books, bound but ungagged

The Ties That Bind

A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths

by Tony Fletcher
Crown Archetype, 704 pp., $30

An old Trouser Press Record Guide once noted, "You'd be perfectly within your rights to hate the Smiths." Morrissey's mercurial self-absorption has long tried the patience of music fans (myself included), who are otherwise drawn to Johnny Marr's distinctive arrangements and impeccable guitar work. After reading A Light That Never Goes Out, I'm on the path to understanding Morrissey – ironic, given that the singer declined to participate in this project. Of course, the story of the UK quartet (1982-1987) turns on more than what goes on inside the frontman's head, so veteran music journalist Fletcher writes at length about bassist Andy Rourke's drug addiction, the band's love/hate relationship with its label, Rough Trade, its punishing (and self-imposed) singles/album/tour schedule, catalog analysis, and Marr's partying, workaholism, and singular genius. Fletcher also explores the Smiths' hometown of Manchester, particularly with regard to the Irish immigrant working class from which Morrissey and Marr sprang. In the end, I came away with a richer appreciation of the ethics, psychology, and artistry of the band. Plus a burning desire to listen to the music.

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