The Smiths – “Strangeways, Here We Come” (1987)
Objectivity, see ya later!
My vision is to keep my favourite 10 albums or so from the list until the end of the project, for albums 992-1001. Although The Smiths are indisputably my favourite band by any internationally recognized measurement system, “Strangeways…” would probably be my third favourite Smiths record. It currently doesn’t crack my top 10 albums (though it’s not far off) and since the album title quotes count as punctuation, I now have an excuse to review!
1. A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours – A terrific opener and a bold statement. Johnny Marr’s response to all the compliments about his guitar playing? Open the record with this piano-driven tune without a single guitar track.
2. I Started Something I Couldn’t FInish – Time for glam. The Smiths will forever be known as a ‘guitar band’ but Andy Rourke’s bass & Mike Joyce’s drums provided anything but a replaceable rhythm section. I especially like Rourke’s entry here.
3. Death of a Disco Dancer – Morrissey’s piano debut. In the D major walkdown tradition of Dear Prudence, the album’s second longest track is also its finest. The closing 2 minutes are delightfully chaotic.
4. Girlfriend in a Coma – Beautiful upstrokes & string swoops, macabre lyrics, yet another Smiths Master Class in contrast!
5. Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before – I enjoy the disarming of potential critics. “Oh here goes Moz, moaning again…” A strong side one closer and it appears I’m not the only one who enjoys playing this on guitar. Here’s an under-rehearsed but fun cover courtesy of Noel Gallagher & half of Coldplay:
6. Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me – You’re doing something right if Andre 3000 says he wished he wrote this song. One of the songs that signposts the direction the group might have taken if only…
7. Unhappy Birthday – Nice acoustic guitars, not Morrissey’s strongest lyric sheet, supposedly the acoustic route was another path Marr was interested in pursuing.
8. Paint a Vulgar Picture – I absolutely adore the key changes. Not usually one to jump into the spotlight, Marr leaps out front & centre with a nice, if rare, guitar solo. This might have been the record’s best song, were it not for the uncomfortably prophetic line, “Reissue! Repackage! Repackage!” The (evergrowing) list of Smiths & Morrissey best of/most of compilations is staggering and makes Morrissey’s industry criticism here seem a little hollow in hindsight . While I approve of just about anything that leads people to the band, there’s simply no substitute for the proper studio albums.
9. Death At One’s Elbow – Perhaps the reason I don’t have a Smiths record in my all-time top 5 is because they typically included a late album track like this. Lightweight, rockabilly, instantly forgettable. Such filler was often sandwiched between masterpieces, but filler all the same.
10. I Won’t Share You – When The Smiths broke up just prior to the release of Strangeways, this was one of the songs fans turned to for answers. This and the b-side of the Girlfriend in a Coma single, I Keep Mine Hidden, are widely considered to be about Morrissey’s relationship with Johnny Marr. No Mike Joyce on this track alas, but there is some nice mandolin work and the sentiment is perhaps an appropriate note on which to end their studio album career.
If you are a fan of the group, I practically insist you pick up Simon Goddard’s book The Songs That Saved Your Life for a fascinating look at their turbulent & glorious five years.
I could go on (endlessly!) but in the interest of brevity, I’ll wrap it up: though their name was intentionally common, there will never be another band quite as extraordinary as The Smiths.