Various - Romantic and Square is Hip and Aware

matcd030  /  January 2004
Various - Romantic and Square is Hip and Aware
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Various - Romantic and Square is Hip and Aware

matcd030  /  January 2004

A daring and impressive tribute to legendary mid-80s English band The Smiths. Arguably one of the finest pop groups of all time, The Smiths released an impeccable collection of records between their debut in 1983 and their swansong in 1987. Among their many fans are several top artists from California-based indie Matinée Recordings, so the label invited twelve of them to pay respect to the brilliance of The Smiths and mark the 20th anniversary of their first album with this sincere tribute. Borrowing a title from the run-out groove of the "William, It Was Really Nothing" single, "Romantic and Square is Hip and Aware" provides solid interpretations of Smiths classics by current Matinée artists from England, Australia, Brazil, Sweden and the United States. The contributors include The Pines, with a jangly version of the hit "Ask"; Pale Sunday, providing a magnificent bossa-nova/shoegaze reworking of "I Know It's Over"; The Lucksmiths, who approach the mighty "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" as a duet and come out smelling of roses; Slipslide, with an expertly crafted cover of "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want"; Pipas, adding a dance beat to the early classic "This Night Has Opened My Eyes"; Lovejoy, contributing an admirable cover of "Girlfriend In A Coma"; Would-Be-Goods, with an unforgettable version of "Back To The Old House"; The Young Tradition, putting their polish on an untraditional version of "Sheila Take A Bow"; Simpático, with a convincing rendition of "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore"; The Guild League, glam-ing up the already glam hit "Panic"; The Liberty Ship, attacking the rollicking "Sweet and Tender Hooligan" in fine fashion; and The Snowdrops, with a splendid live recording of "Bigmouth Strikes Again". Created with immense reverence for the band, "Romantic and Square is Hip and Aware" is a passionate tribute to the most influential pop band of the past 20 years.

  1. The Pines - Ask
  2. Pale Sunday - I Know It's Over
  3. The Lucksmiths - There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
  4. Slipslide - Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want
  5. Pipas - This Night Has Opened My Eyes
  6. Lovejoy - Girlfriend In A Coma
  7. Would-Be-Goods - Back To The Old House
  8. The Young Tradition - Sheila Take A Bow
  9. Simpático - That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore
  10. The Guild League - Panic
  11. The Liberty Ship - Sweet and Tender Hooligan
  12. The Snowdrops - Bigmouth Strikes Again (live)


This is sacred ground, of course. Not many groups have had the nerve to attempt a Smiths cover, yet here we have a whole album of them from Matinée's finest. The Smiths are my favouritestestestest band in the world - EVER! - and so I should simply take one glance at this seemingly worthless piece of pudding and stamp on it with my slippers, but hang on a moment! What's this? A fuzz-polka version of 'I Know It's Over' by Pale Sunday? A even more sinister than the original version of 'This Night Has Opened My Eyes' by Pipas (who are on such a great run of form that they could burp into a microphone and it'd be great)? And just over there is a beautifully lush version of 'Girlfriend in a Coma' by Lovejoy. Add to this Simpatico's - excuse my French - fucking stunning version of 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore', and the Liberty Ship's almost metal (stop laughing!) version of 'Sweet and Tender Hooligan' and things have turned out fine again. There has to be a downside. There just has to be. In fact there are two. The Pines' overlong version of 'Ask' and The Guild League's far too twee version of 'Panic'. I know 'Ask' is an attack wrapped up in a whimsical pop song, but it shouldn't be this whimsical! No matter, because the best is saved for last. The Snowdrops give us such a fantastic working of 'Bigmouth Strikes Again', that any small blips can instantly be forgotten and we can all start smiling again. Only Matinée bands could pull something like this off. And, by crikey, they have.   --Tasty
Countless artists have pledged allegiance to the Smiths since their 1987 breakup. Morrissey and co. captured a generation with their lovelorn melodies during their five-year reign, and the Ocean Blue, Pete Yorn, Supergrass, Placebo, and the Thrills are just a few who've covered their songs. Somehow it's really enjoyable to sing along to the bittersweet words written by Morrissey, because they're so true. Indie pop label Matinée Recordings make a lovely dedication to Manchester's favorite sons with Romantic and Square Is Hip and Aware: A Matinée Tribute to the Smiths. Acts such as the Young Tradition, Lovejoy, the Pines, and Pale Sunday offer sweet renditions of classic Smiths tunes that indie pop fans and Smiths loyalists alike should take pleasure in. The Lucksmiths' version of "There's a Light That Never Goes Out" is much more rosy-cheeked compared to its original on The Queen Is Dead. Tali White and vocalist Karen Morcombe make for a charming duet as Morcombe switches up the lyrics at the close -- "There's a light in your eyes and it never goes out." The U.K. duo Pipas get sultry on "This Night Has Opened My Eyes." Keeping with Johnny Marr's jangle clamor, the honeyed hush from Lupe Nuñez-Fernandez tames Morrissey's heartache. The Snowdrops go beyond that on their acoustic-driven live version of "Bigmouth Strikes Again" and massage Morrissey's bruised heart in the process. The lesson learned with Romantic and Square Is Hip and Aware is that any Smiths song can be your own and no interpretation is wrong.   --All Music Guide
Bands you love covering the songs of a band you love equals a unique pleasure that's hard to describe. That's the case I find myself in with Matinée Recordings' Romantic and Square Is Hip and Aware album, with the stable of Matinée artists (Simpatico, Lovejoy, The Would-Be-Goods, Pipas and 8 others) playing the songs of The Smiths. 2004 is the perfect time to pay tribute to The Smiths, not just because they were a great and influential band which doesn't get enough tributes like this, but because Morrissey + co.'s brand of nervous nonconformity was undoubtedly shaped by the political climate of the Thatcher years…and the recent conservative retrenchment in the US, UK and elsewhere echoes that period in a way that gives these songs an added importance. The way Morrissey's self-deprecating view of love is tied to the Cold War climate of fear and paranoia is clear right from the first track on Romantic and Square, The Pines doing "Ask," with its indelible line "If it's not love than it's the bomb that'll bring us together." That sentiment rings through powerfully, but so do Pam Berry's lovely singing of it and Joe Brooker's overlapping guitars, which are truly stunning in how lovely and melancholy they sound. The Pines and all of the rest of the bands here take a loving approach to the material; it shows in the way they highlight what was great about the originals and in how handily they showcase their own styles and aptitudes without overshadowing The Smiths. The collection is filled with magic moments: The Lucksmiths stripping the immortal "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" to its essence; Slipslide casting a soft, lovely sheen on "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want"; Simpatico's Jason Sweeney doing a brilliant Morrissey vocal impersonation on "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore" while still sounding like himself and keeping the song as heartwrenching as ever. Romantic and Square Is Hip and Aware is one of those rare tribute albums that makes you remember how much you love the original musicians and makes you love the interpreters even more at the same time.   --Erasing Clouds
To say the truth, we weren't really expecting any of this. Of course, the news of the Matinée tribute to the Smiths did get us all excited, but you know how tribute albums are: you buy them out of curiosity, you listen with a smile to the familiar songs and then after a month you put the record somewhere, collecting dust until you move house again. But the fact that "Romantic and Square is Hip and Aware" is another matter is clear from the first seconds of song one. From that moment you know that the right place for it is in the same filing row of "The Queen is Dead".
I've been listening to a lot of the Smiths lately, due mostly to a novel I recently read about an avid Smiths fan and a co-worker who is almost as avid. So this tribute album comes at a suitable time, although in the grand scheme of things, the Smiths' music will likely go down as timeless. Never the biggest fan of the Smiths' entire catalog, I'm completely sold on the value of their individual hits. If the Smiths were the definitive 80s pop band, pop in the 21st century has a home on the indie label Matinée, and all of the acts here are fans of the Smiths. So like any tribute, you get loving renditions of the best songs, but what sets Romantic and Square apart is the thought that went into these songs. It would be easy to do a tried-and-true cover, but these bands cover the Smiths songs in their own style. So you get a diverse group of styles that feature the tremendous songwriting talents of Morrissey and co. The Pines do a beautiful stripped-down folk-style version of "Ask," with a nice mixture of male and female vocals, and the Lucksmiths get the cake for best song with an astoundingly brilliant cover of "There is a Light that Never Goes Out." Again, male and female vocals and lovely acoustic guitar make this version nearly as good as the original. Pipas give a kind of smoky, loungy feel to "This Night Has Opened My Eyes," and Would-Be-Goods' "Back to the Old House" is a lovely, folk-inspired, melodic track. The Young Tradition use synths and acoustic guitar beautifully on a lush version of "Sheila Take a Bow," and the ever-brilliant Simpatico do a lovely classic-pop sounding "That Joke isn't Funny Anymore," easily one of the best here. The album closer, a live cover of "Bigmouth Strikes Again" by The Snowdrops, is also brilliant. My favorite Smiths song anyway, with acoustic guitar, perfect percussion, gorgeous vocals, and the crowd's encouragement, it's a fantastic cover. Some tracks are bit more akin to the original. Slipslide's Graeme Elston even sounds a bit like Morrissey on the moody "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want," and Lovejoy does a fairly stoic version of "Girlfriend in a Coma" that unfortunately just sounds slowed down. The Guild League's "Panic" is passable at best, and it sounds like the band is trying too hard to sound appropriately British (they're Australian). The Liberty Ship's "Sweet and Tender Hooligan" similarly sounds like a lo-fi original. The Smiths played some amazing songs, no doubt about it, and they'll likely be heard on the radio in perpetuity. Yet what makes this tribute so perfect is that these are talented bands putting their own take on Smiths songs, giving them a fresh and new feel while showcasing the Smiths' brilliant songwriting. And since Matinée is at the forefront of the best modern indie-pop, the quality here is assured. In short, this is the perfect tribute to the Smiths.   --Delusions of Adequacy
The Smiths are the kind of band who inspire devotion and demand loyalty from their fans for whom the music speaks with more empathy than any other language. With a trademark of clever lyrics sang with unerring conviction, The Smiths have carved themselves a unique place in the history of music. Needless to say the brave Matinée artists paying tribute to this legendary band had their work cut out. The bands, who include Pipas, Lovejoy, and Simpatico to name but a few, met this challenge head on. Although melodically there is not a song on this compilation which is a million miles from the original version, each brought a snippet of their own to the song which they were covering. Changes in tempo, emphasis and styles contribute to a multitude of different flavours. The Pines song is a characteristic acoustic slowed down version of "Ask". Meanwhile Pale Sunday manage to give a slight Brazilian feel to "I Know It’s Over" and the Slipslide version of "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" is sung in a hushed whisper becoming a gentle but heartbreaking lullaby. For me though the highlight comes from the Lucksmiths cover of "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out". The mixed male and female vocals along with the fastly strummed guitars ring out with a passion as the band takes hold of the song and makes it their own. The album is not full of pale imitations, but who needs that anyway? Instead expect to find old songs being told from a new angle with a strength of feeling that the artists involved in this project must be given credit for.   --Friends of the Heroes
A Smiths tribute album no less, and mighty fine with it. There was a time in the mists of time when the Smiths where the most crucial band on the hi-fi, perhaps the world, nights spent huddled in front of pre digitalised radio, hard to imagine as it may seem to today’s generation, but no internet by which to amuse ourselves. The Smiths, were, all said and done, the first bed-sit band, in Morrissey they had a singer who spoke to societies supposed misfits / outsiders, a person who understood the dark depths of existence and whose lyric writing gave each passing release a sense of being a minutiae kitchen sink drama, innately aware that records were more than mere passing novelties and that you could touch people by the power of words alone, hence feelings of hate, loneliness, abandonment and maudlin musings of suicide / death often laced their early work all the time the miserablist undercurrents kept buoyant by Marr’s often delicately brittle atmospheric chord grooves; passionately English, Morrissey’s world was all Keith Waterhouse and Alan Sillitoe, a post war factory fuelled Northern England where drudgery met humour head on, the sleeves of each Smiths single adorned with monochrome images of actors and artists close to the lead singers heart simply bore out the attention to detail in every respect. So to ‘Romantic and Square is Hip and Aware’, (the title taken from the run out groove of ‘William, it was really nothing’) a collection featuring 12 Smiths classics re-appraised by a generation they influenced, and when we say re-appraised we mean re-appraised, this isn’t some idle show of fan-dom at work here, each band, admittedly to differing degrees of success, has tried to make their chosen song their own. Opening the events, the Pines, who lets face can’t do no wrong at our gaff tackle perhaps one of my least favourite Marr / Morrissey cuts, the dreaded ‘Ask’. In their own imitable way Brooker and Berry stamp their authorative folk magic on the whole proceedings to such an extent that they endow it with a warming pastoral presence that’s both crisp and endearing. Fools some would call them, but Pale Sunday take on the daunting ‘I know it’s over’ and completely decimate it by adding an almost tongue in cheek quick step dynamic that’s drowning amid the peppering of sophisticated string sections and shot through with the showering of sonic storms, still sounds miserable but it does have that feel of early Flying Saucer Attack eyeballing a Bontempi accompanied Bacharach. Now we’ve been marvelling at the latest Lucksmiths mini-album ‘A little distraction’ so there’s no surprise that they opt to re-jig one of the Smiths finest, deciding to take away it’s lasting sting by approaching it as an amiable male / female duet with the aid of Karen Morcombe and giving the whole process a lasting pop vibe that replaces the originals sense of desperation with a stubborn non-chalance. And if this was a vote on Morrissey soundalikes then Slipside’s Graeme Elston would win hands down, covering one of my personal faves ‘Please please please let me get what I want’ which aside having everything including the kitchen sink (drama) only falls short of the original due to the absence of the stupefying flamenco style guitar lead out, equal fondness goes to the Pipas jaunty re-tread of ‘This night has opened my eyes’ which switches harrow for numbing dreaminess. Multi instrumentalist Dick Preece AKA Lovejoy pulls ‘Girlfriend in a coma’ out of the flames to give it a good life saving slap with heartbreaking consequences while the Would Be Goods get all dusty and lovingly misty eyed on the romantically revisited ‘Back to the old house’. ‘Sheila take a boy’ is given a Parisienne workout by the Young Tradition and firmly measured out by the Nico-esque vocals of Laura Watling. However perhaps the compilations finest moments come with the interpretations by Simpatico and the Guild League, the former tangle meaningfully with ‘That joke isn’t funny anymore’ and give it a froze through to the bone dynamic while the latter appear to completely strip ‘Panic’ to give it a seriously goofy music hall make-over and into the bargain providing the most original or at the least, interesting cover. ‘Sweet and Tender Hooligan’ is put through the fuzz box and tooled up with shiny Doc Martens and an energetically aggressive groove by Nottingham’s the Liberty Ship which leaves the Snowdrops to bring up the rear with the trembling laid back snoozing acoustic sweep they so indelibly cast over ‘Bigmouth strikes again’. All in all a beautifully gathered collection of long forgotten memories and a long overdue reminder of some of the greatest treasures to be found in pop’s crown.   --Losing Today
Any drift back to the 1980s for me really ought to include some mention of The Smiths. The last time I wrote anything about Morrissey and his troupe of Mancunian vagabonds I was swamped with vitriolic hatemail, so forgive me if I’m more than a little wary of mentioning them ever again. It’s inescapable however, in the light of the new Matinée tribute collection Romantic And Square Is Hip And Aware. Slotting this into the CD player and spinning it for the first time was a strange experience. Having avoided playing any Smiths records for a long time, I’d not heard many of the songs for some years, and yet each one immediately felt like an old accomplice. A strange feeling indeed. Even stranger was the feeling that each of these versions felt immediately more bearable than the originals. Maybe it’s the lack of difficult memories, or maybe it’s the fact that most of the songs chosen are late-period Smiths and I’m therefore more open to new interpretations of songs I never particularly warmed to in the first place (Lovejoy’s take on ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’, The Young Tradition’s ‘Sheila Take A Bow’ or the Lucksmiths’ glorious duet take on ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ for example all seduce me more successfully than I remember the originals ever doing), but whatever; this is a collection that doesn’t allow admiration (or indeed adulation) get in the way of a good time; is an artful nod and a wink instead of a deferential grovelling. And for this we should be more than happy. Oh, and Keith Snowdrop’s sleevenotes say all that ever needed to be said about The Smiths ever. Full stop. End of story.   --Tangents