Review Summary: The Smith's followed up a classic with a decidedly uneven, but ocasionally brilliant swansong.
Its always surprised me that both Morrissey and Johnny Marr name Strangeways Here We Come
as there favorite Smiths album. Perhaps they feel the need to help people remember it, because following their legendary The Queen is Dead
, it certainly has its work cut out for it doing that. The album certainly has its charms, though, and several of its songs have gone to be staples of Morrissey’s solo sets. When the album is at its very best, it seems like it should rank with the Smiths best, but it also offers a good chunk of dull tracks that hamper it from becoming the classic it could be. Chances are, it would have ended up a transitional album, had The Smiths not broken up as it was completed.
The albums opener “Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours” is loaded with a steady harpsichord riff, marimba, and absolutely no guitar. Despite this, it features one Morrissey’s most memorable melodies, and offers a vivid snapshot into The Smiths that could have been. There are several other clear highlights that crop up later in the album. The classic Smith’s jangle of “Girlfriend in Coma” and “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before”, the later of which features some Johnny Marr's best guitar work, show Morrissey at his very best with lines like “There were times when I could have murdered her/but you know I’d hate anything to happen to her” or “I still love you, oh I still love you/only slightly less than I used to. And the dirge “Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me” comes close to replicating the epochal heights of “I Know Its Over.” The simple closer, “I Won’t Share You”, with lyrics almost certainly about Morrissey and Marr’s split, can also rank among the two songwriter's best.
Unfortunately, the great heights those songs reach replicated by some true stinkers. The glam-esque “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” is a step in the wrong in the wrong direction for the band to have taken with its painfully synthesized saxophone and bland guitar riffs. On “Unhappy Birthday”, Morrissey comes off as little more than a parody of himself. “Paint a Vulgar Picture” would have been pretty great, if it was possible not to cringe at a band railing against a long gone band turning out useless best of compilations, when they would soon be doing just that. They even take another ill-fated dive in rockabilly on “Death at Ones Elbow.”
All this certainly doesn’t add up to a bad album. Strangeways Here We Come
is eventually just good. But it certainly isn’t solid. While many albums who receive the rating I’m giving this one may earn it by turning out an album of generally good-but-not-great songs, Strangeways
gives some true classics with some true missteps. It would’ve made a killer EP, or an interesting transitional work. And yet, its still vintage Smiths, right down to the title which consists of an amalgam of an infamous prison and a quote from an old British art film.