The Smiths – Strangeways, Here We ComeSire, 1987
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Is there some common understanding that Strangeways is the Smiths weakest record? Because if so, they must have had one hell of a discography. Strangeways Here We Come is a gem. It has “A Rush and a Push and the Land that we Stand on is Ours,” “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” and “Girlfriend in a Coma” and that’s just on the first side! I think maybe I made that whole thing about this being a substandard album up. I really appreciate great bands who can exist in five albums or less. It makes everything so much easier. Not that easy is always (or ever) the way to go, but the simplicity of falling in love is that much simpler (see also: Pavement). With the Smiths, it was sometime in high school when I found Louder Than Bombs on Napster and, despite seeming totally unpunk, I was drawn like moth-to-porchlight to Morrissey’s funny, self-deprecating, sad, and occasionally profoundly moving lyrics and Johnny Marr’s guitars, which sounded unlike any guitars I’d ever heard and really gave the Smiths a sound that many bands have tried to replicate but just can’t nail down the gorgeous complexity of it all. THESE were the cool guys. They somehow seemed so legit to me when I was eighteen, driving to school with the windows down and “Panic” or “Ask” playing on a mix CD.
I didn’t get to the proper albums until college. I still haven’t listened to Meat is Murder all the way through more than once, but I do have a great affinity for The Queen is Dead and “Still Ill” from the self-titled debut has a special place in my heart because until Danny played a cover of it for me at band practice one day I’d A.) Realized I’d never really listened to the self-titled debut either and B.) That song kind of nutshelled every complex relationship-related emotion I ever had and C.) Thought Danny (who is an incredible songwriter in his own right and now has a band signed to Sub-Pop’s Hardly Art label) had written it himself and I was like “Holy shit that is fantastic.” But Strangeways didn’t come into the picture until Destroyer’s magnificent Destroyer’s Rubies came out in 2008, the quasi-title track of which features the line “Typical me, typical me, I throw my cargo to the sea…” Being the nerd I am—particularly with Destroyer songs and the other songs they reference—I rooted around and found the source to be “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish.”
I think my favorite thing about music is the way the things I like are all kind of daisy-chained together. Bands discovered and fallen in love with because of off-hand references made by other beloved bands. It’s a beautiful, organic sort of thing that I wholly appreciate. Something that really boils down the essence of what it is to be a psychotic music person. Wanting to take in everything but only having a finite amount of time and having certain tastes and such built up over the years. That feeling of discovering a new favorite band, it’s better than just about anything. It’s on the same wavelength as love (thus, better than sex, natch). You don’t even need to know WHY you love an album; it’s practically irrelevant as long as it is getting through. Anyway, the Smiths hit that wavelength and still do. I think Morrissey is a total weirdo, but he seems like a totally genuine weirdo who really is obsessed with his art and politics. My kind of weirdo indeed. This listen through gave me the gorgeous closer "I Won't Share You." The melody is subtle but oh god does it cut right through you butter-like. And then it's just like, autoharp and bass guitar. That's all it needs! And it just ends! No wrap up or anything, just kind of fades away. The last track on the last album of one of maybe the greatest English band's career. I know you've got the Beatles and the Clash and Radiohead and all that, there's just something about the Smiths that feels raw and real and more emotionally resonant than anything produced by those other three bands.