FRIEND WEEK! Modernism Monday: “Ask,” The Smiths. Submitted by Iain.

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Yankette’s Reaction:

This song is so sweet! It sounds like it was written for (and by?) an awkward high-schooler. I love the rhythm, obviously. But, “if it’s not love, then it’s the bomb that will bring us together?” Well that’s different.  Songs like this remind me that it’s so hard to find current pop songs that are this interesting and direct. The song sounds so happy but there is clearly a message here.

Iain’s Justification:

I love this song. It’s a study in abnormal black/white duality that intentionally ignores the gray middle ground. Moz starts the song by claiming that “shyness is nice” but immediately follows it with “shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to” – is the implication that he likes it if you don’t do all the things in life you’d like to? The lyrics culminate in the chorus – “If it’s not love then it’s the bomb – the bomb – the bomb – that will bring us together.” Logically, that means that either love or a destructive, possibly deadly force that will bring us together; there’s no room for something like chemistry, luck, or penguins to draw us together. There’s love. Or there’s the bomb.

The song is filled with these black/white contradictions that ignore the middle ground – “spending warm summer days indoors” (wouldn’t the obvious choice be to be outdoors on a warm summer day?) or “ask me/I won’t say no/how could I?” (so it’s just yes or no, no partial answers).

The lyrics are typical Moz, but it’s also hard to not also be swept up in Johnny Marr’s exuberant guitar line. Marr has a sharp ear for hooks – as is also evident from his tenure with Modest Mouse, which moved that group into an even more radio-friendly, hook-heavy sound – so it is no surprise that his boisterous playing almost always turns Moz’s dark, twisty, and twisted lyrics into bouncy pop poems.

Why did I put this song forward? I don’t have any particular nostalgia for this song, it doesn’t bring up any particular emotions or past triumphs, and it isn’t because I am a lifelong fan of the Smiths – I got into the group quite late, actually. I circled off this song multiple times, but it always came back. I thought about Trampled by Turtles’ “Keys to Paradise,” maybe something from Tanya Donelly for the Yankette (can’t get much more New England than the Throwing Muses and its offshoots), or even the Beatles. But the Smiths’ “Ask” is just such a phenomenal song – and a bastard of an earworm at that – that I had to put it forward. (And yes, I’m cheating by linking to other songs I considered, but I live to cheat. Well, unless it’s a standardized test that requires a scan of the veins in my hand in order to even enter the testing room.)

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