As stated in my review of the Smiths final album Strangeways Here We Come
, the Smiths broke up in the summer of 1987, shortly after recording Strangeways
, a few months before the album's release. Rank
is a live recording taken from an October 23, 1986 concert in London, after the release of what is considered to be their greatest album, The Queen is Dead
. Some state that Rank
was nothing more than a cash grab before the Smiths popularity in England decreased; but as it was the last official "new" material that the band ever released (though several greatest hits collections have been issued over the years), most fans gladly accepted it.
Rank features 14 songs from the concert. I Want the One I Can't Have
, There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
, Frankly Mr. Shankly
, Never Had No One Ever
and Meat is Murder
were all cut from the concert. While it would have been nice to hear these songs performed, the tracks included suffice.
For those unfamiliar with a Smiths concert, this album reflects a rather "playful" atmosphere, though that is just my interpretation of it. Morrissey squeaks and squawks his way through the songs, and this can either irritate the hell out of you or endear him to you. It is difficult to explain, but if you have listened to the album you will know exactly what I mean. For those new to the Smiths, I don't think I would get a good first impression from this record. You would need to be at least semi-familiar with their songs in the first place to fully appreciate them when performed lived. For those who say they "can't get past Morrissey's voice" to listen to their music, I don't think this album would be for them. Besides the Marr-penned instrumental The Draize Train
, there isn't anything musically innovative here. Marr does vary things up, but not enough that would merit purchase from Morrissey-haters. (note on The Draize Train
: after some research I found to have only been released as a b-side to some singles and the Australian version of The World Won't Listen
Musically, there have been complaints about the production of the album from critics and fans alike. While drummer Mike Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke aren't unnoticeable, they certainly are overshadowed by Morrissey's vocals and the two guitarists. Unlike past tours, the Smiths decided to bring along an extra guitarist to approach their studio sound. Craig Gannon joined Johnny Marr as the rhythm guitarist for the Smiths, though he was only a member for a brief while and is traditionally forgotten.
Johnny Marr once again proves that he is a great applied guitarist. Though he doesn't even solo or do anything even remotely astounding, he has proven that he can write catchy tunes (listen to the lead guitar track on "The Boy With the Thorn in His Side
": dead simple, and catchy as hell).
I was going to do a track by track review, but seeing as this is a live album, it seemed rather pointless. I would recommend people purchase it after having heard all 4 other Smiths albums first (The Queen is Dead
, the Smiths
and Meat is Murder
, recommended in that order), as well as the compilations (Hatful of Hollow
and Louder than Bombs
/The World Won't Listen
). For that reason, the people I am recommending it to should have heard all of these songs already, especially since a good portion are off The Queen is Dead
I was a little surprised with the inclusion of songs like Vicar in a Tutu
or What She Said
over classics like There is a Light That Never Goes Out
, and even I Want the One I Can't Have
(which at times I believe to be the best song off Meat is Murder
). Not that the first songs mentioned are bad, but the Smiths have much better material which they could have included on their only official live release. It is also disappointing that they didn't even perform
classic songs like Handsome Devil
, Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now
, How Soon is Now"
etc., which are very well-known to casual fans and would have made this album much more accessible to them.
If you were to download some songs from this album, listen to The Queen is Dead
, What She Said
(yes, I know what I said before, but I really do like the way they performed this song), I Know It's Over
(though its studio version was much more beautiful), and the show closer Bigmouth Strikes Again
One thing that could be said to be missing is discussion with the crowd. Morrissey has been known to get talkative during concert, and it would have been entertaining to hear rather than the odd "Thank you" or "This is our new single". That being said, most of his comments were likely topical, and wouldn't have been very interesting to hear 20 years later.
Though Rank has some weak points in terms of production, everyone familiar with the Smiths' work knows that production was not their strong point. The only other weak points which I can point out are Morrissey's grunting and squeaking for potential irritation factor, and the exclusion of some great songs. Other than that, this is an essential album for Smiths fans. For those of us not lucky enough to have experienced the Smiths live (I was only born a year before they split up :p), or who feel that Morrissey's current solo performances do not live up to the Smiths, then this is a great album for you.
But I would definitely not recommend this album as a starter. If you are only slightly curious, certainly pick up one of the numerous Smiths compliations (Singles
was my first Smiths album), or The Queen is Dead
as I have mentioned before. But once you are familiar with the music, this will be a tremendous album to add to your collection.
For Smiths fans 4.5/5. It isn't essential, but I couldn't see you wanting to miss out on this album.
For fans of the genre 4/5. Perhaps the best band of the 80s indie scene, this is what they sounded like back at their peak.
For those outside the genre 3/5. There are much better albums to get into this genre. By all means check it out, but you are probably better off starting with some of the other albums mentioned in this post.