Updated: Jun 4
At the tail end of 1987, the kings of indie-pop released their fourth and final studio album Strangeways, Here We Come a little over a year after their masterpiece The Queen is Dead. We at Melophobe certainly did not hold back with our praises with that record being one of the five albums to receive a perfect 10/10 score from us. Between the two final studio albums, two unique compilation albums were also released showcasing a handful of unreleased tracks rather akin to the style of The Queen is Dead with Panic and Ask at the forefront. In the Smiths final go at it, they seemingly tried to separate themselves from the jangle-pop sound which at this point, went hand in hand with the perception of The Smiths sound as a whole. To their credit, this album definitely exhibits a stylistic evolution, and has a sound more so in the alternative rock family (although it’s still a oceans width away from the alternative rock sound of R.E.M or The Pixies) than the indie pop family, at least in the context of the Smiths sound. All in all though, Strangeways, Here We Come was a great and largely underappreciated record at a time when the alternative rock world was very malleable.
The room filling keyboards and microphone effects which kick off the album on A Rush and Push and the Land Is Ours set the stage for a stylistically different sound than the previous studio album; in fact, there are no guitars at all in this song. The Smiths with no guitars!? And the best part is, they nailed it. Although Johnny Marr is not wielding his 6 string on this song, Andy Rourke still lays down a great bassline raising the question, why do all The Smiths basslines go so hard? Following the guitar free opening track, fear not, Marr bluntly comes back in with a more classic sounding guitar forward song with I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish.
The star child track from the final studio album (at least to the masses) was the lead off single Girlfriend In a Coma. Short, sweet, and very concise, this song just shows what the Smiths do well - jangly, indie pop. No matter how hard they may have tried to separate themselves from that tag, they are just so iconic and good with that sound. The lead-off single finds itself with nostalgic, almost medieval sounding English folk melodies played so gracefully by Johnny Marr on his acoustic guitar. Although it may not be well noticed, and it certainly has not been talked about much, the bright indie folk sounds of this song were decades ahead of its time with the indie folk scene not popping off until the early 2000’s. For me though, it's the musically interesting third track on the album Death of a Disco Dancer that steals the show with its massive outro and interesting guitar work almost akin to what you might expect from a band like Radiohead. The Smiths had never released a song quite like Death of a Disco Dancer and although they made the sound their own in their unique Smiths fashion, that was a seemingly experimental and out of left field fantastic track.
The impact The Smiths had on indie and alternative music really cannot be overstated. They made it sexy, they made it accessible but most importantly, they were really good musicians. No one is saying Strangeways is The Queen is Dead, but it is great in its own right and allowed The Smiths to branch out a tad more before they vanished into the sunset. The legacy of The Smiths lives on today in the indie world, and is not going anywhere anytime soon. Just as most of what The Smiths have released, the songs hold up today as strong as ever.