The Smiths, Strangeways, Here We Come
Hell is other people, and sometimes you might just be better off walling yourself in
Did we already crown The Queen Is Dead as the Smiths' masterpiece? Because Strangeways, Here We Come is hardly a descent from the mountaintop. Call the band's final two albums twin peaks, because there is a similar feel to these black comedies that made them, at the time, perfect partners for sides A and B of a 90-minute Maxell. "I've come to wish you an unhappy birthday, 'cause you're evil and you lie/ And if you should die, I may feel slightly sad but I won't cry," sings Morrissey on "Unhappy Birthday," which only places second in the album's macabre sweepstakes. The real award goes to "Girlfriend In A Coma," another brightly jangling number that portrays decidedly mixed feelings about a loved one's hospitalization. Its title referencing the name of a Manchester prison, Strangeways seems to recognize that hell is other people, and sometimes you might just be better off walling yourself in. These sentiments are wrapped in brighter-than-ever melodies, including the effusive power pop of "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before" and the tale of a fading pop star that is "Paint A Vulgar Picture," the latter sporting the first-ever Smiths guitar solo. It would also be Marr's last, as the guitarist left the Smiths a few months after Strangeways was completed. The album's final track, the acoustic elegy "I Won't Share You," sounds like Morrissey's farewell to Marr only in retrospect. The two had burned so brightly, there was hardly energy left to give the Smiths a formal burial. "[Morrissey and I] were trying to set ourselves on fire all the time," Marr told me in 2003. "It really takes it out of you."