Three years and it was over for Morrissey and Johnny Marr, the two pajama’d bananas behind The Smiths. The distraught celibate vegetarian and the consummate guitarist were having creative difficulties and, just weeks prior to the release of Strangeways, Here We Come, Marr decided to part from the band. In September of 1987, The Smiths were officially kaput. What the Britons left behind is a polished, some accuse over-produced, offering that boasts the well-crafted songwriting expected from such glum, pale fellows. Thus Strangeways comes brimming with melancholy tales of love gone, Marr’s musicianship and Morrissey’s swoony vocals.
Joe’s troubles in “A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours” are followed by the beating slap of “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” in which Morrissey growls and croons about uncertainty and aloofness over Marr’s saxophone arrangement. The gradual build-up of “Death of a Disco Dancer” comes next; the tune’s title repeated as piano builds on guitars that built on the drums that accompanied the lazy bassline and stray guitar pickings and pickings that opened the song. Then comes that one joyous ditty we all know and love, “Girlfriend in a Coma,” a bleak, bouncy, deceptively happy lover’s lament where Marr’s string arrangements aptly couple with Morrissey’s pleas.
Sandwiched between the bad-to-worse relationship tale of “Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” and the guilt-ridden “Unhappy Birthday” comes two minutes of staid crowd sounds and piano prior to the orchestral punctuations of “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me.” An anthem for melodramatic sufferers of unrequited love, who among them couldn’t relate to the lyrics “Last night I felt / real arms around me / no hope — no harm / just another false alarm.”
Handclaps find their way into the record company jabs of “Paint a Vulgar Picture.” A dead star on their hands, record companies “Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!” in accordance to the plans they weave. But despite the chicanery and sickening greed, a devoted fan remains so, still enamored by a non-encounter at a sound check. Strangeways ends on the quiet, something-unrequited “I Won’t Share You.” Marr’s distant acoustic guitar and lull murmurs buoys the lolling “knows” and “nos” that drift through the song.
Strangely, before completing this review I was turned down for a date as the album played in the next room. Guess what song came on right after? Yup, “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me.” Morrissey, I need a hug and a vegetarian-friendly shepherd’s pie.
Similar albums/albums influenced:
Pulp – Different Class
Doves – Lost Souls
James – Seven