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Strangeways Here We Come was to be the fourth and final studio album from The Smiths as the band's guitarist and co-songwriter Johnny Marr left the band before the recording of this album had been completed.
Because of this, it surprised me to read not that long ago that both Morrissey and Marr cite this 1987 album as their favourite and I wondered if that fact is actually true. It certainly seems strange to me that Johnny Marr would find an album which he never finished recording to be his favourite. It can't exactly have been a happy time and I would have presumed one of the earlier albums would have been the preferred choice when discussing favourites.
However, this is The Smiths and being different is what they did so well, whilst having a certain realism about the songs and in particular the lyrics, with the clever, twisted wit almost always at the forefront.
Strangeways Here We Come is not my personal favourite album by The Smiths, but it does have a certain charm and uniqueness about it, which sets it apart from the others. Maybe it is because the album has a finality about it, in that all the songs here seem to be about saying goodbye in one way or another or maybe because the musical style takes a slight shift in direction in places.
In my opinion it is an album of highs and lows, but listening to it from start to finish I always think I maybe shouldn't like this as much as I do, but can't exactly say why. Certainly when I listen to the tracks individually, some of them don't grab me as much as others have on the previous albums, but play it right through from start to finish and I find I appreciate it more.
Following their legendary 'The Queen is Dead' was not going to be an easy task and The Smiths were also on the verge of breaking America at that time because of The Queen Is Dead's critical acclaim. All should have been good at this time, but like all good things it sadly came to an end.
Strangeways Here We Come opens with 'Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours' and I always recall my initial surprise on first hearing this, as whilst it features no guitar it still includes a great melody featuring a harpsichord and marimba. Was this going to be part of a new direction for The Smiths? Although we will never know, I do wonder where they would have taken their music if they had continued and listening to this opener always brings those thoughts to mind.
I think most folk will remember 'Girlfriend In A Coma' which is what I define as traditional Smiths. A jangly melody with a morose Morrissey declaring "there were times when I could have murdered her" but then showing he has a soft side by following up with "but you know, I would hate anything to happen to her."
This track always makes me smile as soon as I hear the opening lyrics "girlfriend in a coma, I know, I know... it's serious" as there was nobody writing lyrics like Morrissey. His self-depracating wit and observations are a big part of what made The Smiths unique and why they can never be imitated.
'Stop Me If You Think Heard This One Before' is a classic Smiths track, not only because of the trademark jangling guitar courtesy of Marr, but because its melody is uplifting and yet the lyrics tell a different story as Morrissey sings that nothing's changed, he just loves you slightly less than he did before and paints a gruesome picture of "friday night in out-patients." The man is a genius at this stuff, it seems so simple you wonder why it was never done before, yet he left many song-writers scratching their heads.
'I Started Something I Couldn't Finish' has a bassline which reminds me of one of my favourite Smiths tracks: 'What Difference Does It Make.' Here Morrissey tells of "typical me, typical me, typical me" and whilst the track is typically The Smiths, I am not keen on the jazzed up sound here. I really like the track but would prefer it to be stripped back a bit and not feature the saxophone, just so I could enjoy it more.
'Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me' is a musical treat to sit back and drift off to. Morrissey's voice has an almost hypnotic quality here but it is the music which makes this such a good track in my opinion.
Indeed the second part of the album sees Morrissey seemingly getting much more personal, "I've come to wish you an 'Unhappy Birthday'," being a fine example as is 'Paint A Vulgar Picture' but whilst these could be a pointed attack on Marr, Morrissey is also having a pop at the entire music industry here. That aside, the latter in particular is a joy to listen to and the added applause at the end seems very apt.
The simplistic acoustic closing track 'I Won't Share You', is a very fitting end to the album and indeed The Smiths, with lyrics possibly reflecting Morrissey and Marr's split. I think of this as The Smiths swan song but it is also one of my favourite tracks, which I love more with every listen if that's possible.
Strangeways Here We Come is a good album but I would disgree that it is their best. Having said that, there isn't anything to really dislike in my opinion, except maybe 'Death Of A Disco Dancer' which I have never been so keen on and features Morrissey's one and only instrumental contribution where he randomly hits the keys at the end. So maybe it is the 'it's all over' theme running through this album signifying the end of what was great and good, which makes it more difficult for me to enjoy than their previous albums. I do realise however, that The Smiths couldn't go on without Johhny Marr, he was almost as much a focus of the band as Morrissey in my opinion and whilst I mourned the end of The Smiths, I don't think it would have been right for them to continue without him.
Enjoy the memories!
A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours
I Started Something I Couldn't Finish
Death of a Disco Dancer
Girlfriend in a Coma
Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before
Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
Paint a Vulgar Picture
Death at One's Elbow
I Won't Share You
Produced by Johnny Marr, Morrissey and Stephen Street.
The Smiths - Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)
Producer: Johnny Marr, Morrissey and Stephen Street
A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours
I Started Something I Couldn't Finish
Death of a Disco Dancer
Girlfriend in a Coma
Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before
Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
Paint a Vulgar Picture
Death at One's Elbow
I Won't Share You
Strangeways, Here We Come is the fourth and final studio album by The Smiths. The album gets its title from Manchester's notorious HM Prison (previously known as Strangeways Prison, until it was renamed in the 1990s).
To my way of thinking this is the most varied and diverse album by The Smiths and had the band not split up just before Strangeway's release, they would have been looking forward to a very positive future. Johnny Marr had started playing around with a synthesiser for this release and he credits all strings and saxophone arrangements to Orchestrazia Ardwick, but in reality this was a fictional institute and was none other than Marr himself operating under an alias. Such is the out of character nature of this record that Morrissey even plucks up the courage to play the piano on Death of a Disco Dancer.
Oh how I love the opening track to Strangeways, A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours. The jaunty and exuberant tendencies of this track set a high watermark for the rest of the record to reach; this is mainly down to Marr's playful piano work and fruity percussion arrangements. The vocals are brought to you with a real sense of vehemence, "They said there's too much caffeine in your bloodstream and a lack of real spice in your life", and then Mozza adds humorously, "Leave me alone because I'm alright, Dad." It is certainly one of their best recordings; not something to be scoffed out when considering the consistently high quality of this band's output in such a short space of time.
Second track and second single to be released from the album, I Started Something I Couldn't Finish, continues things in a big way and features one of Marr's hardest rock riffs. Morrissey courageously broadcasts the following, "I grabbed you by the gilded beams; this is what tradition means!"
The only song on the album which I cannot warm to is Death of a Disco Dancer. It's not because of Morrissey's jokey piano playing (far from it), but because rather the atmosphere is so turned down and mellow it just feels too wide of the mark after the invigorating start to the album. The last thing I want is the cold shower of Death of a Disco Dancer. Anyway, my complaints are over and after all is said and done it is still perfectly listenable.
First single to be released from the album was the ingeniously titled Girlfriend in a Coma. This song could actually be pinpointed as the end of Marr and Morrissey's working relationship - and indeed the end of The Smiths - as Morrissey insisted on including a Cilla Black cover as one of the song's b-sides, much to Marr's exasperation. Idiotic people who don't know what is good for them will tell you, "Girlfriend in a Coma is SO depressing..." But the clever ones among you will be a witness to Morrissey's delightful sledgehammer wit. Oh, the song also features some of Marr's most comprehensive guitar work and clocking in at barely 2 minutes it is a pop gem.
If you only know the Mark Ronson & Daniel Merriweather rendition of Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before you need working on. There is one thing that I want to get straight here: Mark Ronson and Daniel Merriweather butchered this song and if you actually enjoy it more than the original I wish all of the Biblical plagues upon you. As for the Morrissey & Marr original, what a thing of beauty! The musicianship featured here is magnificent and really shows that The Smiths were showing no signs of slowing down in their final moments. The lyrics are forward-looking and some of Morrissey's best, "I was detained, I was restrained, and (he) broke my spleen and broke my knee and then he really lays into me!"
The Music Industry-baiting Paint a Vulgar Picture has one of the catchiest melodies on the album, with Marr's rhythm guitar setting a new standard for indie rockers the world over. Morrissey has such a keen eye for observations and he has never written anything quite as detailed and venomous as this. Of course, there is something faintly ironic about Morrissey yelling "Re-issue, re-package" when evaluating this album in the same year that two of his solo albums have been re-issued and re-released. Is it the album's most noteworthy song? Most probably, yes.
The free-for-all harmonica party of Death at One's Elbow provides a relatively light moment of humour when placed amongst all the other hard-hitting tales. How is it humorous? Well, take this excerpt, "Oh Glen, don't come to the house tonight... because there's someone here who'll take a hatchet to your ear!" A classic Morrissey lyric if ever I saw one!
When considering that this would be the last Smiths' record, it is fitting that Morrissey & Marr would close the album with a track entitled I Won't Share You. Drummer Mike Joyce sits this one out and you can scarcely hear Andy Rourke's mellow bass work, so this is essentially Morrissey serenading Marr, as he plays his guitar in one final act of cooperation. One of the band's most beautiful ballads, this blissful acoustic tragedy brings Strangeways - and indeed the band's entire career - full-circle and to a fitting close.
While critics usually pine over the previous Smiths' studio album, The Queen Is Dead, Strangeways, Here We Come isn't all that far behind where quality is concerned and in my eyes it makes for another classic album.
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The last album from one of the greatest bands of the era, wasnt well received by the press at the time of its release and is still widely acknowledged to be their weakest offering. I think this is an unfair assesment, as do Johnny Marr and Morrissey who have both, at some time declared this to be their favourite.
Released after the departure of Johnny Marr and recorded amidst rising tensions particularly between Marr and Morrissey it certainly has a darker feel than previous Smiths albums. I dont know if the troubles contributed, but Marr's approach to the instrumentation seems to have changed, there is still some lovely guitar playing (see Girlfriend in a coma) but it seems a bit understated after heavenly jangly guitar playing on previous releases. His focus seems to have shifted to orchestration, Last night i dreamt that somebody loves me is an excellent example of this.
As for Morrissey, his voice was only getting better all the time, he sounds particularly good on the album close 'I wont share you', one of the best tracks they ever recorded. His lyrics were also just as sharp as ever.
The only thing about this album i would change is the cover, its not a bad one just not up to usual high standards that Morrissey set, the image is grainy and just doesnt seem to have the presence of his other creations.
Dont listen to the bad reviews this is a fine album, well worth a listen, particulary, Death of a Disco Dancer, I wont share you and Last Night I dreamt that somebody loved Me.
'Strangeways, Here we Come' is the last album recorded by The Smiths and was first released (posthumously) in 1987. Johnny Marr left the group during this period and although replacing him and carrying on was considered, common sense prevailed and, realising that Johnny Marr was not someone you could just replace, The Smiths were no more. Marr wanted to expand his musical horizons and formed Electronic with New Order's Bernard Sumner. On 'Strangeways, Here we Come' Marr's attempt to broaden his music is very apparent and for this reason the album is uncommonly strong for a swansong, with the tension between Morrissey and Marr lending an extra spark and depth to the album.
Morrissey and Marr have both said that 'Strangeways, Here we Come' is the best record they ever made together.
A RUSH AND A PUSH AND THE LAND IS OURS
Starts with a piano introduction and features a xylophone sound, the opening song is a bit strange but wonderfully unique. Marr's decision to incorporate new sounds rather than just rely on his trusty guitar already signals that the album might not be quite what you expect. Morrissey growls (!) a lot on this song to good effect and as usual is haunted by love and the thought that everyone is having a nicer time than he is.
I STARTED SOMETHING I COULDN'T FINISH
Not my favourite Smiths song ever. It's ok with a glammy and aggressive guitar sound by Johnny Marr but it doesn't have a chorus that pulls you in or the payoff you expect from The Smiths. Very much in the 'ok but not amazing for The Smiths' section. The end of the song features a brief snippet of Morrissey talking to producer Stephen street.
DEATH OF A DISCO DANCER
A very arresting and beautiful composition that sometimes deliberately veers off-key to affect a slightly strange and psychedelic sound. Morrissey is in his element with music like this and spins out a mournful but dreamy vocal that seems to be about the violence creeping into Manchester's night life at the time. Love, peace and harmony will have to wait for the next world. Andy Rourke's bass is very evident on this.
GIRLFRIEND IN A COMA
One of The Smiths greatest ever songs. Johnny Marr's perfect music is heightened by an orchestra and Morrissey infuses his wonderful vocal with all the rich melodrama of a sixties kitchen sink British black and white film. The song is very affecting, especially when Morrissey sings "Let me whisper my last goodbyes" near the end. Perfection.
STOP ME IF YOU THINK THAT YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE
Recently covered by someone (no idea who!) and back on the radio, the original version by The Smiths is a precise and brilliant pop song. Johnny Marr's guitars give the song a distinctive and immediately catchy riff and Morrissey's vocal contortions add an extra layer of inspired obtuseness. The famous video for this featured Morrissey cycling around the backstreets of Manchester with some mini lookalikes.
LAST NIGHT I DREAMT THAT SOMEBODY LOVED ME
Very much in the spirit of 'How Soon Is Now?', the song begins with samples of baying hordes and then turns into a poignant piano led tune with strings that Morrissey uses to contemplate his ever present themes of loneliness, alienation and time passing with no change in one's circumstances;
"Last night I felt
Real arms around me
No hope, no harm
Just another false alarm"
The song isn't, as a piece of music, as impressive as 'How Soon Is Now?' but it is bold and very moving.
Marr goes jingly-jangly in this simple but charming singalong style ditty, subverted as usual by Morrissey's sometimes dark and often funny lyrics;
"May the lines sag, may the lines sag heavy and deep tonight"
The intro to the song is excellent - right away you know you are in The Smiths world.
PAINT A VULGAR PICTURE
Another amazing song. Morrissey has a good old swipe at the record industry ("At the record company party/on their hands a dead star/the sycothantic slags all say/I knew him first and I knew him well") and we get perhaps Johnny Marr's greatest ever guitar solo later in the song. In the sad but lovely vocal Morrissey goes on to reveal that as a child in those 'ugly new houses', he worshipped the star in question but death means that he/she cannot be hurt again.
DEATH AT ONE'S ELBOW
Very much the 'How did this get on the album?' song on 'Strangeways, Here we Come'. It's a fast rockabilly number and completely forgettable. Fast forward button at the ready!
I WON'T SHARE YOU
A wistful end to the album, 'I Won't Share You' has the dream like quality and beauty of earlier Smiths songs like 'Well I Wonder'. This features acoustic guitars and just gently fades away. "Life tends to come and go," says Morrissey wearily and we sort of know what he means.
'Strangeways, Here we Come', understandably, offers a taster of The Smiths moving towards a new direction and experimenting with their sound, though more through the drift of Marr away from Morrissey than any grand design. It's a possible glimpse of how they might have fitted into a landscape soon to be dominated by the dance sound of The Stone Roses/Happy Mondays etc, had they continued for a few more years.
The album overall is dark, surreal and mournful - but is very elegant with lyrical and musical flourishes that very few others would be capable of. It is also unmistakably a Smiths record.
'Strangeways, Here we Come' has never quite recieved the acclaim of some earlier Smiths albums, most notably 'The Queen Is Dead', but, if you anaylse it on a song by song basis, it is a tremendously strong and interesting album. Any album that includes songs like 'Girlfriend In A Coma', 'Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me', 'Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before', 'Unhappy Birthday' and 'I Won't Share You' ranks very highly for me.
The last of the Smiths albums, Strangeways Here We Come is probably the band's weakest offering and paints a very different picture of the group than that of the previous three. Recorded around the time of their split, the album oozes the resigned tones of a swansong. Much like the dying swan, the Smiths' final words were beautifully tragic. Whereas the first three Smiths albums were aggressive both musically and lyrically, Strangeways seems comfortable sat back with a much calmer sound and Morrissey's lyrics seem to reflect his personal life at the time. A mix of romantic confusion and resignation, combined with the growing divisions within the group, produced an album which does not have the musical greatness of earlier EPs or lyrical wit which makes the first album, The Smiths, a classic. Describing a Smiths album as depressing is akin to pointing out the Pope is Catholic, but Strangeways runs an extra mile with rare hint of anything brighter on the horizon. In some ways this is disappointing. What should have been a glorious end to their life as the greatest pop band of the time, instead finishes as an introverted bemoaning of the world around Morrissey. Every song concerns Morrissey's ills, from his rejection of love in the opening track through to his cry that 'this is my time' in the ending song. Strangeways also marks a clear move towards Morrissey's sound, the slower and more relaxed sound which he used throughout his solo career. Johnny Marr's guitars, for once, do not really grab the attention. They serve more as a platform for Morrissey, the backing sound never really shining and in some places being quite poor - the tackiness of Death At One's Elbow, for example, which barely resembles a Smiths song at all. At this time Marr was becoming disillusioned with the band and this perhaps reflects in his work on this album. It seems half-hearted, unoriginal, going through the motions. Deat
h Of A Disco Dancer is probably the highlight of the album, its melancholic sound beating the late 90s indie rush by ten years. Again, this is a cynical, sad song in which Morrissey seems to have abandoned all hope and is resigned to his fate. The well-known Girlfriend In A Coma and Stop Me If You Think.. are the only recognised hits from this album, both included on the greatest hits albums. With previous Smiths albums it can be taken for granted that the best tracks will not be the popular ones, but those hidden away filling the album. With Strangeways, this is not the case. Those two tracks are among the best on the album, with the remainder struggling to shine. Lyrically, Morrissey is as sharp as ever yet doesn't help himself by being so introverted. The lines of the opening track, in which he wonders why those beneath him find love so easy to come by, are as wonderfully tragic as anything from the Smiths' past. From there on, however, the album seems to descend into self-pity. I Started Something... has Morrissey bemoaning his own inadequacy and lack of confidence, Unhappy Birthday is a bitter journey through Morrissey's past, Paint A Vulgar Picture is a cry for help by Morrissey... the theme should be obvious by now. Of course, Morrissey was always centre-stage in the earlier albums, but here he seems to dominate and control the entire album. For a Smiths fan, regardless of all the above, Strangeways is an essential purchase. The album fillers may not be classics but for those who adore Morrissey's words, they are gems nonetheless. Strangeways is not a good starting point for those new to The Smiths, their debut album and The Queen Is Dead being much more accessible and lively. Strangeways is an odd finale to The Smiths' career, but deserves attention despite. Even an introverted, self-obsessed Morrissey is worth ten of today's stars.
There is always a sense of the finite whenever listening to the final record of a band. You feel your own mortality and everything seems to have x number of moments before the bleak and final end. 'Strangeways, Here We Come' is no different. Its surprisingly bright though. Released in 1987, this LP is actually less morbid and moany than previous Smiths records; its a nice picture and indication of where they would have gone had the Morrissey-Marr relationship not been severed in its prime. In no way were the Smiths ready to call it a day when they broke up, they had another five records in them if they really wanted it, and if 'Strangeways...' is any indication, it would have been a swell ride indeed. Granted, this is NO 'Hat full of Hollow' or 'Meat is Murder', but its a great listen. 'A Rush and a Push and the Land is ours' starts off with Morrissey using a spooky voice with lots of echo to introduce this oddball, Beatles-esque, almost psychedelic track; there's a piano and pleasant little melody to it. Not bad. Then into 'I started Something I Couldn't Finish', which isn't all that bad, but doesn't leave much impression upon the listener either- rather a disposable single, it is. 'Death of a Disco Dancer', clocking in at over five minutes, is a few minutes too long, offering more references to 60s psychedelic/garage. Its got some nice harmonies, some hippy-bashing and more ostentatious Morrissey wordplay. But it doesn't annoy, as he is sometimes is an expert at doing. 'Girlfriend in a Coma', a classic pop single,keeps things moving: a humorous little tune that gets everyones feet tapping right quick. 'Stop Me if you think that You've Heard this One Before' has a powerful guitar riff, pummelling MC5-ish drums and surprisingly good Moz leads. You know the routine. Its almost like 'the Queen is Dead' but not as well-executed. The seco
nd side kicks off with the classic ballad 'Last Night I dreamed Somebody Loved Me', some chugging piano, samples of a bloody war somewhere and more moaning... Ho hum. But still a nice track. I really enjoy 'Unhappy Birthday'; its a homo-erotic track akin to another song on here 'Death at Ones Elbow'(the rockabilly standard-like song), both have a western twang to them. More feet tapping shalt ensue, said the Moz. 'Paint a Vulgar Picture' pokes fun at the crass commercialism of the pop musick industry, as Morrissey narrates the twisted tale of record executives repackaging their dead musicians as pop heros. Funny, huh? Morrissey fans will eat it up. The closing number, a ditty called 'I won't share you', is under two minutes with Moz stating simply "I won't share you..." over chiming, sweet english breezy guitars courtesy of Johnny Marr. Perhaps this is foreshadowing of the breakup which happened before the records release. Morrissey as oracle? No. But close. Many people commited suicide and other boneheaded acts of self-destruction after this group broke up. Now, the Smiths were good, theres no denying this: but suicide? Really! I don't think Morrissey warrants suicide!.. Good record, though. To be fair, at least.
Although both Johnny Marr and Morrissey both have said that this is the best Smiths' album, I would tend to disagree with them, as this collection is not as consistent as 'The Queen is Dead'. That is not to say that this isn't still a very good album, as most of the Smiths' work was a lot better than what was in the charts at the time. Only a few groups such as REM and Housemartins were contempories in terms of quality and style of music. This album is probably their most varied work, it's problem being that there are a couple of weak tracks such as the lyrically weak 'Unhappy Birthday' or the interestingly titled, but musically boring 'Death at one's elbow'. There are much less elements of rock on this than the Smiths' previous albums, with Johnny Marr playing piano rather than guitar on many tracks, and scoring some top quality string arrangements on tracks such as 'Girlfriend in a coma'. We are even treated to Morrissey's novel attempt at playing piano on the experimental 'Death of a disco dancer'. The mood is much less depressing than in previous albums, with Morrissey's sense of humour shining through, and even miserable songs such as 'A rush and a push and the land is ours' having a distinctly tongue-in-cheek feel about them.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours
2 I Started Something I Couldn't Finish
3 Death Of A Disco Dancer
4 Girlfriend In A Coma
5 Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before
6 Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
7 Unhappy Birthday
8 Paint A Vulgar Picture
9 Death At One's Elbow
10 I Won't Share You