Review Summary: A rush and a push and retirement is ours
The most elaborate and varied Smiths record arrived with their 1987 curtain closer, “Strangeways, Here We Come”. Despite the fact that Strangeways is a Manchester prison the album has little else to do with incarceration, as Morrissey tackles a varied yet familiar array of topics on the LP, from absurdist humour, to personal failings, to dissatisfaction with Record companies. The music can be just as varied too, with quirky piano, jangly riffs and orchestral tinkerings. Yet despite it’s numerous strengths, “Strangeways” doesn’t impress quite as much as The Queen Is Dead or perhaps even their eponymous debut.
It is still a great record fortunately, and it was far from a disappointing bow out, yet the fact remains that at times certain parts of the album feel a little too fussed over or forced – as if the group knew that the Morrissey/Marr partnership was about to implode any moment and therefore needed to make a final statement that was richer and denser than ever before. However, such feelings are only fleeting and overtly critical, as there are a good number of Smiths classic held on this disc.
‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’ is a catchy, bittersweet piece of self-mockery, and chugs along in a comfortable and adept manner. Morrissey’s sigh of “Hair brushed and parted / Typical me, typical me, typical me / I started something and now I’m not too sure” at the tail end of the chorus is classic tongue in cheek Mozza wit. ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ is even stronger, with glimmering Marr guitars and even more effective Morrissey wit, with his voice sounding smoother and more comfortable than ever before. The bridge between the verse and chorus is one of the most infectious and memorable guitar hooks Marr ever wrote and lines like “I crashed down on the crossbar, and the pain was enough to make a shy, bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder” also ensure this track is a prime cut. The pop charms continue with the darkly humorous ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’, whose music and vocals are so soft and delicate juxtaposing the dark (yet essentially tongue in cheek) lyrics.
At the opposite end of the spectrum we are treated with a rich slice of Smiths sorrow with ‘Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me’. It’s classic Morrissey material yet this is one area of the album that comes across as slightly fussed over and forced as mentioned near the start of the review. Its lengthy intro featuring background screams and a sparse pounding piano lasts a little longer than necessary and the rich, sparkly arrangement that follows with its faux orchestra may be a little too rich for some tastes. It’s still a good song but one can’t help but feel Morrissey and the band have tackled similar subjects more effectively elsewhere in their discography. ‘Death of a Disco Dancer’ also meanders a tad, once again, far from a poor song, but still it comes across as less forceful, memorable and impactful than other tunes on the album. Nit-picking further, ‘Unhappy Birthday’ seems more suited as a simple, minorly-enjoyable b-side.
But when it comes down to it, “Strangeways” is a very enjoyable and solidly constructed Smiths album, and served as decent career closer, with its eclectic range of moods and styles – almost like a narrowed Smiths career sampler. Even if it sags ever so slightly in a few areas its biggest tracks are far too buoyant, exciting and memorable for any shortcomings in other areas to damage the album, or indeed the reputation, of one of England’s greatest bands.