It’s unlikely that even at the height of their fame any of The Smiths (Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke or Mike Joyce) would have expected to one day become the subjects of a Mexican tribute album. The Manchester trio became huge global stars in the mid-1980s with their songs of maudlin woe and overliterate self-pity striking a chord with misunderstood teenagers all over the world. On the surface it’s hard to see how their fey northern English sensibility might appeal to millennial Mexicans, but a portly deadpan genius by the name of Camilo Lara (together with the bandmaster Sergio Mendoza) has drawn on the threesome’s long-standing cult status in his country and amongst LA chicanos to create an album which mixes trip-hop and dub reggae with happy/sad mariachi trumpets and the swooning strings and tragic sobs of ranchera, all of which overlays the erudite gloom of the original songs to wonderful (and often hilarious) effect. Working under the name ‘Mexrissey’ (although the origin of the group’s name is obscure, the album’s title, ‘No Manches’, is a top-class chilango pun), he has given songs such as ‘Cada día es como domingo’ and ‘El último del gang a morir’ (I’ll leave you to work out which is which) a new twist which reveals new dimensions of sound and meaning.
Unlike most tribute bands, who just present a photocopy of the original work and look of their idols, Mexrissey’s histrionic performances (there is little Mexicans enjoy more than drinking, singing and crying all at the same time) are a outright celebration not just of the music of the three Manchester troubadors, but also of the joyousness of such cultural interaction. They reveal the songs of The Smiths to make more sense once uprooted from the petty, miserable, post-colonial melancholy that originally inspired them. While the young (was he ever thus?) Nigel Farage might once have felt some affinity with the line ‘England is mine, it owes me a living’ or stomped along to the song ‘Bengali in platforms’, he and his dwindling fanbase would surely feel affronted to hear it sung with such typically Mexican melodrama. Music is, after all, all about interacción and reciprocidad. It puts me in mind of one of the very best gigs I’ve ever seen: UK-born Cuban and Bangladeshi musicians bashing and tooting up a storm together in East London several years ago. For all the despondency of their source material, Mexrissey make music in much the same spirit. The three members of The Smiths must be encantados.
In unrelated music news, former-pop-star-turned-political-commentator (and, er, novellist) Morrissey has announced that his new single will be a cover version of the Bon Jovi classic ‘Sleep when I’m dead’. In a break from tradition, the sleeve photo of the single will not be a portrait of one of his idols (cover stars have, in the past, included Myra Hindley and Benito Mussolini), but an image of the singer himself. You can see an exclusive photo of the single here.)
(Btw, Anne Marie Waters isn’t, as media reports are calling her, an ‘anti-Islam activist’. She’s a pro-death camp wannabe demagogue.)
(Bbtw: actually, Morrissey and I have a lot in common: we both have immigrant parents, for one thing, and we’ve also both been immigrants ourselves in Rome. That’s where some of his far-right bedfellows – the ones he’s been spending all day in bed with, if you like – just put up some posters advertising a demonstration against the ‘immigrant invasion’. Sadly for them and for him, one of those invading immigrants (me) was on hand to rip them right down again 🙂
Che pezzo di merda sei, Morrissey.)