The Smiths came busting out of Manchester, England in 1982 when singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr came together and formed a group. The band added Mike Joyce on drums and bass player Andy Rourke (after a few short-lived band members left). The band was dubbed The Smiths because it was the most ordinary name they could imagine, as they wanted to distance themselves from what they believed to be pretentious band names (read: Spandau Ballet and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark).
Between 1984 and 1986, the Smiths released three albums that cemented themselves as one of the most popular and revered English bands to come out of the late 20th century. Not without controversy, of course. While the jangly guitar sounds were loved by many, Morrissey’s lyrics – often political, sometimes questionable – were criticized more than a few times. However, though they weathered challenges and their albums were all received well critically.
Their magnum opus is most likely 1986’s The Queen is Dead, which is surprising since the band went through a lot of turmoil in the months leading up to and following the album release (Rourke being fired due to heroin use, legal dispute with their record label, Marr beginning to get exhausted from their extensive touring, and so on.) Featuring their popular songs “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” and “I Know it’s Over”, the album continues to be cited as a genre-defining alternative album, as well as a personal success story for the band.
So, how did they follow it up? With Strangeways, Here We Come, which was released in the autumn of 1987. Sonically, the album is similar to its immediate predecessor in terms of Morrissey’s lyrics, while Marr’s guitars are less “jingle jangle” and a little more rock oriented.
The album opens with “A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours,” which features odd grunting from Morrissey that can also be found on the second track, “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish.” Lyrically, Morrissey is as down as ever, with standout lyrics from the first song being “They said: ‘there’s too much caffeine in your bloodstream and a lack of real spice in your life’.” – potentially calling out hit critics. In “Death of a Disco Dancer,” the discouraging lyrics continue with Morrissey sarcastically singing “Love, peace and harmony? Oh, very nice…but maybe in the next world.”
One of the standout tracks on Strangeways is “Girlfriend in a Coma,” which features a jangly guitar performance from Marr and some rather morbid lyrics from Morrissey (i.e. “there were times when I could have murdered her but, you know, I would hate anything to happen to her.”) These lyrics call to mind earlier tracks such as “Bigmouth Strikes Again.”
One recurring theme of not only Strangeways, but many Smiths albums is the theme of heartbreak and deceit. Morrissey seems to always be sighing about a love that has ended or saddened by a love that was never reciprocated. For example, in the memorable “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me,” he sighs, “Last night I dreamt that somebody loved me. No hope, no harm – just another false alarm.” Morrissey’s lyrics, however mopey or morbid, always seem to be relatable. “I’ve come to wish you an unhappy birthday because you’re evil and you lie and if you should die, I may feel slightly sad, but I won’t cry.” Lyrics like that are so uniquely The Smiths, and that is one of the major reasons why they are one of the most memorable bands to come out of the late 1980s alternative movement.
This is the final Smiths album, and it is the closing chapter of the legacy The Smiths created in their whirlwind of a career. The album is a strong one, but The Smiths seemed to always know what their sound and messages were, so this is more like a continuation more than a new road.
That being said, the band was on the verge of some changes during the recording of Strangeways and Johnny Marr felt like the band was ready to evolve musically at the time of its recording. The band used synthesized saxophone and string arrangements and a drum machine in addition to the instruments they traditionally used. As their previous albums, this was produced by Stephen Street, who specializes in British alternative rock (later working with the likes of Blur, Babyshambles, and Kaiser Chiefs.)
Shortly after its release in 1987, Marr grew exhausted with the band and decided to leave The Smiths, thus dissolving the group. The breakdown in the relationship was attributed to Morrissey becoming annoyed by Marr’s work with other artists and Marr being frustrated by Morrissey’s musical inflexibility.
This album was a success in the band’s native UK, and was also their biggest hit in the US, hitting number 55 on the Billboard 200. Although not as warmly received by critics as The Queen is Dead, both Morrissey and Marr have cited it as their favorite The Smiths album.
Since then, all Smiths members have been active musically, although not together. Throughout the years since their breakup, the band has gained an insurmountable number of fans. Although both Morrissey and Marr have both fervently denied any plans for a reunion, many hope that one day they can put their differences aside and play again as The Smiths.
Reviewer: Tricia Stansberry
IRC: Lucy Patton
Powered by Facebook Comments