We continue listening through the somewhat-less-famous Smiths albums, gleaning their better tracks for our ultimate deep cuts playlist. (Already covered: “The Smiths” & “Meat Is Murder.”) Today let’s look at:
STRANGEWAYS, HERE WE COME (1987)
Now, I won’t go as far as to agree with Morrissey and Marr—what do they know?—that this is “the best Smiths album,” but it is a total masterpiece from start to finish, and it contains some of the best Smiths songs no one ever really listens to…
So tracks 2, 4, and 6 (“Girlfriend in a Coma,” “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish,” and “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me,” respectively) were the album’s three singles, and of course ended up on Singles. That leaves seven tracks for us to comb through.
Track 1. “A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours”
Oh, hello! The lament of Troubled Joe, hung by his pretty white neck / some eighteen months ago might be my favorite opener on any Smiths album:
It’s a call to arms, a come on, and a wry admission of failure all wrapped into one—only Morrissey could make “Oh, I think I’m in love” sound like some cause to go lie down…
Track 3. “Death of a Disco Dancer”
A slower tune crafted around some pretty depressing subject matter (there’s no way it’s not about AIDS), this one really builds:
That drumming at the end! This is also the only Smiths song to feature Morrissey playing along with the others—that’s him on the piano.
(Click here for a demo version.)
Track 5. “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before”
This is arguably the strongest Smiths song that wasn’t a single. Unsurprisingly, it originally was intended to be a single, but Morrissey’s cavalier reference to mass murder ruffled feathers at the BBC. Still, a promotional video was shot:
Both it and the song are utterly brilliant in every way. “Nothing’s changed, I still love you, oh, I still love you / Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to, my love…”
Track 8. “Paint a Vulgar Picture”
This has long been one of my favorite Smiths songs, and it’s a criminally under-heard one. As a friend said when I played it for her, “It’s just epic.” Certainly its lyrics rank among Morrissey’s most cynical, even while he manages to find a final celebratory—albeit morbid—note to hang his litany of complaints on. Perhaps the song’s somewhat nondescript name has caused it to go overlooked?
That said, it’s also rather fitting that this song in particular never got collected on any of the best ofs…
(An extra track, if not a tacky badge: click here for a really excellent demo version, complete with alternate lyrics. Hear both and feel diseased…)
Track 10. “I Won’t Share You”
AKA, Morrissey’s final love song to Johnny Mahr—
—and as proper a close to the Smiths as anything else.
I don’t know why a video was shot for this one, since it wasn’t a single. But I’m not complaining; the director was Derek Jarman, who made several other Smiths videos, and was, IMO, one of the greatest directors ever. (At some point I’ll have to write about his films, in particular Caravaggio, Wittgenstein, and Blue; for over a decade now I’ve been working on a novel partly inspired by that last one…)
(And, yes, that is Tilda Swinton scampering throughout this video…)
As for the two tracks I skipped—”Unhappy Birthday” and “Death at One’s Elbow”—they’re both fine. The former is quite clever and fun; I just think it’s also pretty slight. And the latter is some filler before the last track; it works perfectly well when you’re listening straight through, providing some space to unwind after the expansive “Paint a Vulgar Picture”—it just isn’t all that compelling on its own. But there are no bad songs on this album, which is (for my money) second only to The Queen Is Dead.
Next up: We’ll conclude with Hatful of Hollow!