Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Track Attack- "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" (The Smiths, 1984)

(Welcome to "Track Attack," where each Tuesday a "new" song will be reviewed. Anything is fair-game for this feature, from meticulously lush 70s folk to blown-out 2000s R&B. Today's track is a brief, but brilliant piece of 80s indie pop. Arguably the pinnacle of sadness for a band who had an affinity for the sad.)
Discussions of sad sack miserablism start and end with the Smiths. Other bands lay claim to melancholy (Mazzy Star) or hold the championship belt in outright depression (Joy Division), but the Manchester quartet retains ownership of immutable sadness. It's the reason "This Charming Charlie" is so incredibly funny. Lauren LoPrete was able to find the one pop culture figure capable of matching the Morrissey fronted group in the head-hanging department. Charlie Brown was by all accounts "a good man" and the world conspired against him anyway. So it was with Morrissey in the Smiths. When he wanted a place to call home, he was kicked out. "Miserable Lie" wouldn't let him experience the thrill of a first time without reminding he and his lover, "There's something against us." Even with his steadfast commitment in "Girlfriend in a Coma" he's left to shakily beg, "I'd hate anything to happen to her," atop sawing strings and Andy Rourke's gulping bass. Where melancholy can be a torturous invention of the mind, the sadness Morrissey was experiencing was all too real. His brain wasn't inventing reasons to be glum. He'd been dealt shit hands and was reacting the way a lot of us would, by rocking back and forth in a ball of woe.

Though the band would write better songs (I still rank "I Know It's Over" as their best), no effort in their catalog can match 1984's "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" in terms of sorrow. Appearing as the B-side to their fifth single "William It Was Really Nothing," it's everything the chart placing track isn't. Despite the song's 1:50 run time, the tempo moves at a glacial pace. Gone are Mike Joyce's booming drums, Rourke's rolling bass, and Johnny Marr's spidery guitar. In fact Joyce and Rourke don't even appear on "Please, Please, Please...," giving a sliver of credence to the foolish assertion that they were replaceable. Even Morrissey, one of rock music's greatest vocalists, has seemingly "checked out" here. He doesn't use any of the sliding vocals that closed out "William It Was Really Nothing" or let out falsetto cries. Instead it’s one exasperated sigh. The figure on the bed of the cover may as well be Morrissey, whispering "haven't had a dream in a long time," as he brushes back his jet black quiff. Like Marr's acoustic guitar playing and background soloing, he's lifelessly still.

Never getting your way will cultivate that kind of defeatism. Hopefully we all understand that 100% of our wishes can't be granted, life doesn't allow for such fulfillment. But how often do we consider the idea of rarely, if ever, having a prayer answered? I'd like to think I could handle it, that I'd maintain a stiff upper lip, but that's a lie. Endless rejection of every kind would be suffocating. It wouldn't be long before I'd be like Morrissey pleading "Please please please, let me, let me, let me, let me get what I want, this time," just so I could breathe fresh air again.

Perhaps the better question is what would happen when such a loser finally wins? Would they run off jumping and praising a higher power like the crippled man of the Book of Acts? Or would the celebration be marked by another sigh, one of relief? In the case of "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want," the "victory parade" is signaled by Johnny Marr's shimmering mandolin. I've somewhat joked before that you can hear heaven in his outro, but I'm largely serious when I say it. As mechanically rhythmic and reverberated as it is, his part is exceptionally humane. A tiny stream of comfort washes over me when I hear Marr's picking. I know the same is true of Morrissey who has broken down in tears as those familiar notes ring out. For once in his life though it's not woeful sorrow he's experiencing, but joyful sadness. Lord knows it would be the first time. 

If you have suggestions for songs you want to see featured in future editions of Track Attack, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

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