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The Smiths - Strangeways, Here We Come (Cover Artwork)

The Smiths

The Smiths: Strangeways, Here We ComeStrangeways, Here We Come (1987)
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Contributed by: JeloneJelone
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In 1986, the Smiths released their best album, The Queen is Dead. This is a scientific fact. It has their best political tune (the title track), their best love song ("There is a Light and It Never Goes Out") and their best song period ("I Know It's Over"). Carried by Morrissey's beautiful, lacerati.
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In 1986, the Smiths released their best album, The Queen is Dead. This is a scientific fact. It has their best political tune (the title track), their best love song ("There is a Light and It Never Goes Out") and their best song period ("I Know It's Over"). Carried by Morrissey's beautiful, lacerating lyrics and Johnny Marr's shimmering guitar, The Queen is Dead is a great record.

Which is probably why Strangeways, Here We Come, the group's 1987 follow-up, doesn't always get the credit it's due. It's good, but it's not the best Smiths album. It isn't even the best Smiths release from its given year; for us Yanks, that would be the singles collection Louder Than Bombs. Compared to Queen, it's a maudlin, even goofy record. Here is where Morrissey started telling dark stories with a newfound love of camp, either intentionally ("Girlfriend in a Coma," "Death of a Disco Dancer") or not ("Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me"). It was a radical shift after Queen's earnest assertions of heavenly ways to die. Indeed, Strangeways is the one Smiths release that could possibly be called "underrated."

I say "possibly" because, well, it's still well-thought of. It's just not quite as celebrated. But at just 36 minutes, it's a thrillingly quick listen. "A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours" is a haunting opener, all ominous upstrokes and ghosts. "I Started Something I Couldn't Finish" amps up the glam rock undercurrents that Morrissey would cultivate a few months later on his first solo record, Viva Hate. If you wanted to reduce Moz's solo career to a single track, this Smiths cut might do, from the braggadocio, sarcastic vocals to the big, strutting drumbeat.

The record is not without its surprises, though, and the first one is "Death of a Disco Dancer." A solid chunk of the songs on Strangeways are proto-Morrissey solo songs ("I Started…", "Stop me If You Think You've Heard This One Before," "Paint a Vulgar Picture"), but "Death of a Disco Dancer" is a thunderous tune that builds into a synth-laden frenzy. Morrissey goes on a tangent lyrically ("Love, peace and harmony? / Oh very nice… but maybe in the next world"), but it's Marr who dominates here, laying down guitar, synth and piano lines that create a heavenly discordance. No wonder Morrissey still trots this one out live. That the album can then turn to the cheery, airy "Girlfriend in a Coma" makes that noise that much more apparent.

Strangeways is an album of big rock moves. These songs are among the group's catchiest. They even trot out studio tricks like strings for fun. But the album also packs some pleasing left turns. "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before" is the most Smiths-y, as its driven by Marr's trademark jangley guitar work, but it's pleasantly out of place here. Same for "Unhappy Birthday."

Ah, but the best track is the last one. "I Won't Share You." It's the simplest song, driven primarily by Marr on autoharp. It's the most haunting, especially when the reverb kicks in. And it also, in a way, feels like the one completely genuine track on the record. Morrissey doesn't mask his intentions in camp and sarcasm. Oh sure, it's still got some of his wit ("Has the Perrier gone straight to my head?") and ego ("I won't share you / With the drive / And the dreams inside / This is my time"), but it's such a beautifully performed song.

Strangeways has a lot going for it, and a lot of baggage to bear. Because it followed The Queen is Dead. Because it's the last Smiths record. Because "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" is kind of cheesy. Despite these things, it's still a phenomenal record.

 

 
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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
lovethatjoker (May 11, 2012)

One caveat out of the way: I don't like Paint A Vulgar Picture. It's WAY too long, the lyrics are utterly hypocritical, and the riff is repetitive. When I play this album on my iPod, I replace this track with I Keep Mine Hidden, the last song The Smiths ever recorded together. Though nowhere near a home run, it's a far more likable song (charming even) that pleasantly fills in the gap in the sequencing.

Now, I know The Queen Is Dead is considered their masterpiece, but I've always found myself listening to this album the most out of The Smiths' entire discography. While there may not be one track on this album as truly magnificent as that one's title track or Bigmouth Strikes Again (my favorite Smiths song), the sequencing in Strangeways HUGELY improves on The Queen Is Dead (that album's song layout seems a bit schizophrenic to me). In my opinion, the first six tracks of Strangeways, Here We Come is the pinnacle of their career.

The choice to begin the album with no guitars is a brilliant and (in typical Smiths fashion) BOLD mission statement that this album is not going to be the same old sound we're all expecting (Radiohead did the exact same thing thirteen years later with Kid A to much higher accolades). Then we get I Started Something I Couldn't Finish, one of countless sly references in the lyrics to the impending break-up, and the song where the band really channels Morrissey's glam rock, New York Dolls fixation to its fullest potential. It actually majorly foreshadows the muscular rock sound of Morrissey's solo career (but of course it's Marr on guitar, so it's automatically ten times better than anything in Morrissey's solo career). Death Of A Disco Dancer is the first masterpiece of the record, and one of the greatest signs of Johnny Marr's incomparable abilities in arrangement and production. A monster of a song that builds to an epic crescendo. Immediately following the intensity of Disco Dancer comes the most trifling, purely humorous love-it-or-hate-it song in their group history: Girlfriend In A Coma. Many point to this song as Morrissey's "jump the shark" moment, when he finally let his love of camp betray the seriousness of The Smiths' musical intent. It's one of my two favorite Smiths songs, effortlessly catchy and utterly hilarious. Marr's guitar jangle hasn't sounded this happy and bouncy since This Charming Man, all to the archly maudlin cries from Morrissey that "it's very seriouuuus..." It's glorious. Then we're hit with Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before (another funny self-effacing Moz title), which attempts to take the classic Smiths signature sound and crank it up to 11. It's like Marr and Morrissey knew this was their last chance to make a stamp on music, and they took their style to theatrical new heights. It's not quite Bigmouth Strikes Again, but it's a more than worthy mid-album rocker. Speaking of theatricality, we complete the sequence with Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me, an obvious attempt at shooting for the stars and making THEIR EPIC SONG. Many people find it WAY too camped up (the overall orchestral pomp-and-circumstance grandeur of Strangeways is why many find it a fatally flawed album), but I think it's easily on the same level as I Know It's Over.

Unhappy Birthday is a minor but agreeable tune. Marr's guitar work is splendid, but Morrissey's lyrics are far too trifling and shallow in contrast to the shimmering guitar melody. While that worked in Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others, here it just makes Morrissey look lazy. We'll skip Paint A Vulgar Picture (kills what could've been a perfect album) and go to Death At One's Elbow, which I find to be a very underrated Smiths rocker. Great lyrics, simple but driving rhythm, and it's nice to see the harmonica (quite present in their early works and then all but dropped) make a cameo. And finally, I Won't Share You is without a doubt their strongest ending track and a FLAWLESS final song for the band. Everything about it is absolutely perfect, from its heavily allusive lyrics to Morrissey's wonderful vocal melody to Marr's stunning work with the autoharp, it is an understated tour-de-force. So yes, Strangeways is my favorite album of theirs and hopefully its stature will grow, as The Smiths' legacy shows no signs of going away.

writethatbitch (January 23, 2012)

this album fucking rules.

r3vengetherapy (January 23, 2012)

I can't believe I agree with mattramone about something.

I agree this seems to end up as the ignored Smiths album, but I don't know why. Probably because it came after The Queen Is Dead, which is not only the best album they made, but one of the best albums any band has ever made. If someone wants to make fun of "Unhappy Birthday" then I think they're giving the reaction Morrissey wanted. The man lives for sarcasm and is so willing to say and do whatever he wants that I wouldn't be surprised if he wrote it because he knew it would bother people. He's a good troll.

Does anyone know if "Ask" was a b-side from this record, or was it just another insanely awesome single they recorded independent of this studio session? It's probably my all-time favorite Smiths track.

conblake (January 22, 2012)

It's quite a good record, but yeah..."Unhappy Birthday" is really fucking bad. I mean, it must be what anti-Smiths people hear whenever the Smiths come on. God..."Death of A Disco Dancer" is the best song on the album. Very unsettling and a great commentary on hedonism's price.

mattramone (January 20, 2012)

I can only think of 3 or 4 Smiths songs I don't love, and those are like c-sides and crappy covers. I could not love this band more. Second only to the Ramones in my heart.

eatdogs (January 20, 2012)

i figure this is their favorite because johnny and moz spent a considerable amount of time making it the best to their own personal tastes. TQID seems to be one of those albums where everything just went right and the end result was perfection. i think they probably didn't look too much into it because it just seemed to happen matter-of-factly. that special studio magic that some bands have not often.

DrGunn (January 20, 2012)

"In 1986, the Smiths released their best album, The Queen is Dead. This is a scientific fact."
100% correct.

this is probably my second-favorite Smiths album (I don't count Louder Than Bombs as an album), though it's pretty neck and neck between this and self-titled. the first six tracks are AMAZING. the last four are notably not as good, though still good.

also, this is Moz's favorite Smiths album.

mclz (January 20, 2012)

the smiths suck.

eatdogs (January 20, 2012)

i think this is their most underrated...

inagreendase (January 20, 2012)

Second favorite Smiths album. Definitely the weirdest.

jephso (January 20, 2012)

I agree, this album has the band's catchiest songs. It's my favourite over TQID. It's the album I got into the Smiths through and I think "Girlfriend In A Coma" and "A Rush and a Push..." are two of their best.

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