The Smiths had released what is still considered to be their best album, The Queen is Dead
, about a year earlier. It featured Morrissey at his wittiest, saddest, and some might even say peak. Johnny Marr was brilliant in his compositions, and Rourke and Joyce came through as always. There were doubts that the Smiths could top that album. And try as they might, the Smiths did not top it. Strangeways
is a brilliant album, don't doubt it. It features some of Marr's best compositions, and it features a fairly new direction for the Smiths, all well staying fairly close to the formula that has worked so well (amazing songs combined with excellent lyrics). But it didn't match the brilliance shown on Queen
, which some say was unmatchable.
was the final studio album that the Smiths ever recorded (though they did release a live album, Rank
, a year later). This album was recorded in the spring of 1987, and the most accurate sources that I could find state that Johnny Marr left the Smiths in May of 1987. There are numerous reasons stated for his departure. Some state that it was Morrissey's decline to participate in keyboards/synthesizers etc. (he despised dance music), though Marr was eager to experiment. Other reasons include Morrissey's reported inability to work with others, and his cockiness/pretentiousness etc. These were most likely the two major factors, though other reasons are also rumoured. This album was released in the fall of 1987, after the Smiths had broken up. It is unfortunate because it shows that they were in fact growing musically, and one can only wonder what the next Smiths' album would have been like.
A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours
The opening track, it starts off with airy vocals and rather dreamy, ambient sounds. Morrissey's first words on the record? The ever appropriate "hello
". This is very catchy, bouncy tune, it is almost impossible not to tap your foot along to it. Morrissey decided for some reason that growling would be an interesting thing to do on this record (as we already experienced with his random squawks on Meat is Murder), and it adds a humorous air to the song. This isn't exactly a deep song, just a nice pop song. Its title is taken from an Irish "battle cry" for Independence, if I remember correctly. There isn't much special lyrically here. Personally I love the song, but I can recognize that it isn't genius, especially for Morrissey/Marr's standards, so this gets:
I Started Something I Couldn't Finish
This is about as "rocking" as the Smiths were likely to get. Another incredibly catchy song, this one features nice guitar work by Marr. Some clever lyrics all around from Morrissey ("hair brushed and parted/typical me, typical me
"). Once again this is a song that I find to be incredibly catchy, but it isn't tremendous in any aspects. For those of you who already own the album, at the end of the song Morrissey says: "Shall we do it again, Stephen?" referring to Stephen Street, the producer. Of course, whether they did it again or not doesn't matter, as this it the final version we were blessed with:
Death of a Disco Dancer
This is one of the songs that people name-drop in their "Morrissey is a racist" argument. The reason? Disco dancers... some of them were black. And when he says "the death of a disco dancer/ it happens a lot round here [...] I'd rather not get involved
", people took that as being racist. I don't see it at all, but meh. As for the song, it is very sparse musically until the end - and then it just keeps going and going. This song features Morrissey's only musical contribution on a Smiths record, playing the same three notes (not well either) on the piano. At least he tried, right? But this song could have done a lot better if they had cut some of the outro, it just drones on.
4/5, though the outro brings it down a bit.
Girlfriend in a Coma
I think it would be safe to call this Smiths song a classic. It features Morrissey's clever lyrics perhaps better than any other song on this album:
Girlfriend in a coma, I know
I know it's really serious
There were times when I could
Have murdered her
(but you know I would hate
anything to happen to her)
no I don't want to see her
Do you really think
She'll pull through?
It's funny stuff, in a dark, witty sense. It features poppy guitar work by Marr, which contrasts the dark nature of the lyrics. Brilliant stuff. It clocks in at just over 2 minutes, another short and sweet composition from Morrissey/Marr.
Stop Me if You Think You've Heard This One Before
One of the coolest titles ever, so that's a good start to this song. I have trouble critiquing this, because it is such a darn catchy song that I struggle to find any negative aspects in it. This was supposed to be a single, but was rejected by the label because the line "mass murder" could have potentially offended due to recent serial killings that had occurred (I don't know the details, I was 1 at the time). This is an incredibly catchy song, it gets stuck in your head and just won't leave. It has some more awesome Morrissey lyrics:
I still love you, oh I still love you
Only slightly less than I used to (my love)
I crashed down on the crossbar
And the pain was enough
To make a shy, bald Buddhist reflect
And plan a mass murder
Yes, Mozza was indeed in top lyrical form. I have no complaints at all with this song, I absolutely love it.
Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
This song begins with a nearly 2 minute intro of the same piano chords being played over and over, and a crowd cheering in the background. Hardly listenable the first time, downright irritating every subsequent time. But other than that terrible intro, this is another great song. This is more "ballady" than anything, a slow song, but with a heavy beat. It has rather simple lyrics, but they work well:
Last night I dreamt
That somebody loved me
No hope - no harm
Just another false alarm
I do like this song a lot, but it isn't the strongest on the album.
4/5, and this time the intro brings it down a bit.
Their first major misstep. While this isn't a terrible song by any means, it just lacks that.. charm that so many Smiths songs have. Of course it fits the formula: nice guitar pop from Marr, adequate back up from Rourke and Joyce, funny lyrics from Moz:
I've come to wish you an unhappy birthday
Because you're evil and you lie
And if you should die
I may feel slightly sad
(but I won't cry)
Honestly, Morrissey is the only guy that can pull of lie/die/cry, and not make it sound like 12 year old poetry. But something about the song just isn't that good. Standard fare, not much else to say.
Paint a Vulgar Picture
This is one of those ironic songs that only a guy like Morrissey can pull off. If you have any knowledge of the Smiths music, whether you are a die-hard or casual fan, you have probably noticed that their CDs are rather... irritating to say the least. You buy The Smiths
, and you love it. Hatful of Hollow
has almost the exact same songs! Alternate version sure, and some B-Sides and Singles, but if you aren't a hardcore fan, you couldn't care less. The World Won't Listen
, some of the same songs as Hatfu
l, but again you can forgive them because there are some new B-sides, singles etc. Louder than Bombs
.. this Is getting ridiculous! Basically the exact same as World
and these were only the CDs released while the Smiths were together, nevermind the greatest hits, best of, very best of, singles etc. that have come out post-humously. Not to mention Morrissey's solo career, but that's a whole other rant!
There was a point to this.. oh yes, the song. This song is about an musician who has died, and the record label is trying to cash in on it. The lyrics are hilarious if you have experienced what I ranted about above:
At the record company meeting
On their hands - a dead star
And oh, the plans that they weave
And oh, the sickening greed
Reissue! Repackage! Repackage!
Reevaluate the songs
Double-pack with a photograph
Extra Track (and a tacky badge)
Best of! Most of!
Satiate the need
Slip them into different sleeves
Buy both and be deceived
... and us Smiths fans know it well. Hilarious, but at least we can make light of the label's insistence on getting every last dollar out of us. I normally don't include this many lyrics, but I think it is crucial for those who haven't heard the album to see where I'm coming from.
Death at One's Elbow
This song is.. dreadful. I feel terrible saying that, because I truly do love the Smiths. And I wish they could do no wrong, but they have, with this song. It has no redeeming qualities: the music is fast, but boring, and repetitive beyond belief. The lyrics are incredibly uninspired (Oh Glenn/don't come to the house tonight
) repeated a million times, blah blah. Terrible stuff. And I hate saying that, I really do. This is the only bad thing the Smiths ever did though.
I Won't Share You
A perfect ending to a near-perfect career. After the dreadful "Death at One's Elbow" they pick it up.. with a ballad, but no worries. This is said to be about Marr, who knows. But the music is simple, yet beautiful. The lyrics are witty (has the Perrier gone/straight to my head); sad, insistent, and desperate all at the same time (I won't share you). No complaints here, a great way to end off the album. I think this song is overrated, probably because of its finality, and the fact that it might be about Marr. But it is a great song nonetheless.
The Smiths hit the nail right on the head with several of the songs (Stop Me, Girlfriend), came awfully close with others (Rush, Paint), and missed the mark by miles with Death at One's Elbow. There is no doubt that they didn't live up to the Queen is Dead, but who could? Strangeways showed serious evidence of being a transition record, that the Smiths were moving on to even better music - much like Meat is Murder was a transition between their debut and Queen. But unfortunately the band didn't last. As I mentioned before, Rank was released a year later, Morrissey went on to a semi-successful solo career, Marr plodded around here and there (he has a new band now, Johnny Marr and the Healers) and Rourke and Joyce played together as back-up for various acts.
I would definitely recommend Strangeways
if you already own Queen
or the Smiths
. My recommended order is Queen, Smiths, Strangeways
- and if you like all that, Meat is Murder
. But this is a necessity for Smiths fans; no Smiths fan's record collection should be without it.
For fans of the genre, go with the other albums first and if you like what you hear, check out Strangeways
. For fans outside, this will take a while. See my order recommended above, wait a while for Strangeways
Smith fans 5/5
Fans of genre 3.8/5
outside genre 2.5/5
For the record, if anyone cares: the first words spoken on a Smiths record: "It's time the tale were told" (from Reel around the Fountain). And the last: "this is my time".
EDIT: I increased some of the scores, because my intention is certainly not to detract people from the album. I think every song (with the except of Death at One's Elbow) is a great song, and many of them could be considered classics. So.. I increased the scores where I felt I was a little stingy.