A Pair of Smiths Compilations Led Fans to 'Listen' 'Louder'

'The World Won't Listen' and 'Louder Than Bombs'
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Warner Music UK

In 1986, The Smiths' third album The Queen is Dead gave the band some of their best critical notes ever, becoming the British group's fourth release to hit the U.K. Top 10. But the year was anything but smooth for the group: tensions with bassist Andy Rourke led to his brief replacement by musician Craig Gannon (and, later, a period in which the group performed as a quintet), frontman Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr were chafing with label Rough Trade, and the moody frontman felt they deserved greater acclaim, particularly outside of the United Kingdom.

While 1987 would prove to be the year that undid The Smiths for good, they started strong with a pair of compilations that stand tall as some of the group's best work: the British-only The World Won't Listen and its American equivalent, Louder Than Bombs.

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Much like stopgap release Hatful of Hollow, issued between their first two albums at the end of 1984, The World Won't Listen and Louder Than Bombs attempted to bring together a high volume of material that hadn't made it to an album. Key tracks included singles the group recorded with Gannon in the mix, the jangly classics "Panic" and "Ask"; a host of newer single material like "Shoplifters of the World Unite," "Sheila Take a Bow" and "You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby," and even a handful of earlier non-album tracks that had been compiled elsewhere, like "William, It Was Really Nothing," "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" and "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want." (Both albums spread across two LPs and shared nearly two dozen tracks together; The World Won't Listen additionally featured key tracks from The Queen is Dead.)

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As always, both albums came with esoteric photos adorning the covers. For The World Won't Listen, a photo taken at a fairground in the '60s and printed in a book of early Beatles fans was chosen; to Morrissey's annoyance, subsequent reissues cropped the image to focus on the young man in the center, whom the singer deemed "the boy with the puffy cheeks." Bombs, meanwhile, showed the British playwright Shelagh Delaney in a reddish-orange hue.

The World Won't Listen was another predictable chart success for The Smiths in England, reaching No. 2 on the charts. What surprised most observers was the great performance of Louder Than Bombs, which became the group's highest-charting album in America (a modest but still respectable No. 62), and after much fan demand, the album was released in England as well, hitting the Top 40 once more.

While it features no material from what would become The Smiths' final album, 1987's Strangeways Here We Come, these sets stand tall as two of the better intros to the group in album form. Marr concurred in a 1990 chat with Guitar Player. "A huge facet of what we were about was missed out on, because singles culture is so ineffectual in America," he said. "But I thought Louder Than Bombs, the singles compilation, was great."

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