Adrian Thrills

"Would you like to marry me? When Morrissey pops the (metaphorical) question, what can you actually say to the Thin Boy? Pour scorn on his bewitching lines and scoff in the face of his musical eloquence? Or submit and offer to buy the ring? Before scrawling an answer in black ink across a bared chest, it might pay to heed a tidily-packaged and atractively-priced (16 tracks for f3.99) assortment of singles, B-sides and Radio One sessions. Similar in style to Elvis Costello's vital 'Ten Bloody Marys' compilation, 'Hatful Of Hollow' is a golden hour of The Smiths, spasmodically spanning a period of 18 months from their early John Peel and David Jensen broadcasts up to their most recent single 'William, It Was Really Nothing'. It is a patchy, erratic affair and often all the better for that. A song like the maudlin epic 'Reel Around the Fountain' that was later fleshed out and cushioned by the softer production on the debut album is included here in raw, less 'pleasant' form; 'Accept Yourself' and 'These Things Take Time' from the Jensen session are thrillingly abrasive; 'Still Ill' and 'Girl Afraid' remind one of a dull, prosaic competence which marked the band's musicianship in their early days; the wistful 'Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want' and the dense, relatively complex 'How Soon Is Now' illustrate the new heights to which they have recently aspired. But what difference does it make? The most staggering changes are not in Morrissey's beguiling, ambivalent obsessions, which have remained similar throughout, but in the flowering of Johnny 'Guitar' Marr, that chiming man, into one of the era's truly great instrumentalists. Compare the monosyllabic flatness of his early picking with the cascading mandolins that close 'Please Please Please' and it will be clear just how much he has come on. His role in the band is now worthy of at least equal billing with Morrissey's, a fact acknowledged on the awesome 'How Soon', a track previously only available on the 'William' 12": with the voice buried deep in a clammy, claustrophobic mix, Marr - adriotly supported by the two unsung grafter Smiths - unleashes a barrage of multi-tracked psychedelic rockabilly, his Duane Eddy twang destroyed in an eerie quagmire of quivering guitar noise. Magnificent! And so to the calculated mystique of Morrissey: the man-child has mastered the knack of giving away absolutely nothing while appearing to be the most frank, disarming, and explicit wordsmith currently working in pop. But, for all their sexual ambivalence and lyrical unorthodoxy, his songs are universal in the vulnerabilities and desires they seek to express. And it is that, as much as Marr's unfettered brilliance, that has given this group the unmistakeable stamp of greatness. Pride of place here should perhaps go to the track never before available on vinyl, the Peel session version of 'This Night Has Opened My Eyes', a sordid but plaintive tale of a young mother getting rid of an unwanted baby in which Morrissey's vivid observation of the woman's conflicting emotions does nothing to detract from the impact of the gruesome tragedy. Seeking splendour in simplicity and bringing magnificence out of misery, these charming Smiths are vivid and in their prime."