There’s misanthropy, and there’s whatever you’d call Mark E. Smith. If the late Fall frontman gave any less of a shit, then he’d be in dire need of a colonic. He was a monolith of sadism tearing down the icons of all the filthy Bolshevist and backstabbing bastards that he perceived to be in his merry way as he went slashing through the norm like some demented daemon of the demimonde.
In short, he is not necessarily the kind of iconoclast that you’d want to review your work in a hurry. He once even dismissed every single one of his musical cohorts in one fell swoop, stating: “The thing with me, is I can’t stick musicians. I’ve thought about this. I can’t stand them, and being stuck in a studio with them I think that’s my strength, I can hear what they can’t.”
And when it comes to Morrissey himself, according to the writer Jason Heller, Mark E. Smith once professed that the following verse from ‘C.R.E.E.P.’ was about the former Smiths frontman: “He reads books; of the list book club / And after two months—his stance a familiar hunch / It’s that same slouch—you had the last time he came around / His oppression abounds, his type is doing the rounds / He is a scum-egg; a horrid trendy wretch.”
However, when he reviewed the controversial singer’s first solo record, Viva Hate, back in 1988 for the LGBTQ publication Gay Life, he seemed to praise the acclaimed solo effort. “The fascination for me regarding Morrissey is the way he superbly taps and captures the born 1960 and after generation, and their psyche,” The Fall frontman wrote.
Adding: “Early on in The Smiths career my general sum-up was ‘God help us if there’s a war’, but there last LP hooked me with its poetry and power.” That last LP in question was Strangeways, Here We Come, which Johnny Marr himself also champions as possibly The Smiths finest. The group’s guitarist once said: “Strangeways suffers because it was our last record, so people think there were arguments and horrors in making it, but there weren’t.
Adding: “Morrissey and I both think it’s possibly our best album. That and some of The Queen Is Dead, which accepted opinion says is our masterpiece. That might be true, but Strangeways has its moments, like ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Love Me.’ Last time I met Morrissey he said it was his favourite Smiths song.”
It would seem this is a judgement that Mark E. Smith shared in, and it led to him carrying a degree of interest to see what Morrissey would conjure next following the band’s bitter split. And he wasn’t disappointed by what he heard. In uncharacteristic fashion, he proclaimed: “The lead vocals on most of side two are fantastic and original, justifying completely the new solo approach.”
While the rest of his review is more to do with the culture surrounding the record and a chance to attack “the Webber Award mafia” and the suspicious lives of the people of “Wythenshawe”, the overall tone of his piece is as positive as you could ever hope for from the incomparable Mark E. Smith. And one notable postscript well worth mentioning is how commendable it was for the punk frontman to contribute to a gay magazine in the era that it was written.