Everyone loves The Smiths, don’t they? Their career spawned four great albums and in this new section of BoomSlang we rank ‘em in order of best to worst!
1. The Queen is Dead
Objectively this is the best Smiths album, right? I never used to think so. I used to prefer their self-titled debut (back when I had an awful tin ear for production quality). It’s safe to say this is the favourite of most Smiths fans and ultimately it’s not undeserved. Yes, it’s book-ended by two comparatively weak tracks (“The Queen is Dead” and “Some Girls are Bigger than Others”) but everything else on the journey is pure gold. Morrissey has never been more whimsical than “Frankly, Mr Shankly” and “Vicar in a Tutu” and never more heartfelt than “I Know it’s Over” and “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”, the latter truly living up to its title as an anthem of pure melancholy that will never die. Without trying to sound portentous, it’s a true evocation of beautiful sadness with no sense of irony. He demonstrates the importance of being earnest on this album and the poetry is eternally resonant as a result.
The rest of the band were at the height of their powers too, case-and-point being the skull-crushing pulse of “Bigmouth Strikes Again”. They progressed sonically to give a more grandiose feel to the tracks than anything they had produced before, which plays off Morrissey’s sentiments well and divides the record into light and shade. You genuinely get a sense of the nocturnal quietness of “I Know it’s Over” and “Never Had No One Ever” contrasted to the summery bliss of “Cemetery Gates”. If you’re a teenager reading Victorian poets for the first time this album will be your musical Bible.
2. The Smiths
Ah, how can it not warm the cockles of your heart listening to The Smiths’ precious beginnings? You can derive bottomless pleasure from delving into Morrissey’s sadness on this album (up until the soul crushingly bleak “Suffer Little Children”), and it’s funny to think there was a point when it was actually enjoyable to hear him complain about everything (literally). It’s quite an accusatory album; Mozzer was pissed off with the hand the world had dealt him and the lyrical rampage that ensued left love, womanhood, Manchester, England, employment etc. ruined in his wake. For every punch he throws he also dishes out some love as well for things such as alcoholic afternoons, spending 15 minutes with you, kissing under iron bridges, rocking cradles etc. This album was the world’s introduction to one of the most complex characters in 20th Century pop music.
Johnny Marr really was a wizard wasn’t he? He was only 19 when they recorded the album and he was coming up with unbelievably inventive guitar parts. His mastery is all over the album and is incredibly hard to replicate. Marr and Morrissey really did own this album, there’s nothing too remarkable about the rhythm section. The track list speaks for itself, can you spot any weaknesses? Wall-to-wall hits.
3. Meat Is Murder
This is the dark horse of The Smiths’ back catalogue, the album you love more than anything one day and then forget about just as quickly the next. If you think about the production quality of this album it’s a colossal leap up from The Smiths (although its hollow sound almost suits the innocence of the band at the time), and it’s evident from the opening moments of “The Headmaster Ritual”, one of Marr’s best licks. The song is also a great space for Morrissey to air his discontent about outdoor P.E. at secondary school.
There’s nothing that’s overtly lacking on Meat is Murder. Tracks like “Rusholme Ruffians”, “I want the One I can’t Have” and “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” are testaments to the skill and chemistry of the foursome at a time when they were honing their sound. I actually think there are few bands (if any) in the history of rock music who have played off each other quite as well as The Smiths did, and look how many dozens of quality tracks they produced as a result? One of them being, of course, “How Soon is Now?”, which sticks out like a sore thumb. How you take the title track might come down to your personal values, but musically it’s a bit of an underwhelming closer for an otherwise solid album with high peaks.
4. Strangeways, Here We Come
Allegedly this is every member of the band’s favourite album and I can almost understand why as it utilises the broadest plethora of instrumentation and is their most experimental and eclectic. The trouble is that the songs aren’t always as well conceived or emotive as they had been on previous releases, prefiguring Morrissey’s solo career which I think was a step down from The Smiths in several respects. “Girlfriend in a Coma” is clearly the standout track; its merry melody entwined with conflicting feelings of anger, hurt, worry and sadness over the loved one’s deterioration. “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” is funnier than anyone really gives it credit for and is quickly followed up by the haunting, if clumsily recorded, “Death of a Disco Dancer”. “Paint a Vulgar Picture” is also a highlight, and while the other tracks are by no means abhorrent the main issue with the album as a whole is that it doesn’t embed itself in your soul like the others do. Really, the idea of The Smiths only works if their music burrows its way into your heart, and it’s hard to have that reaction to an album which is intentionally colder than previous material.
So there we have it! Not the most contentious article you’ll ever read but let us know if you disagree and why. We’ve got The Beatles, Radiohead, and Bob Dylan coming up in future so stay tuned folks.