Album: Strangeways, Here We Come
. . .
“There’s too much caffeine in your bloodstream”
Even by my normal standards, there was wayyyyyyy too much going on in my life during the autumn of 1987.
For one thing, I was on the verge of turning 25, which seemed like a milestone in and of itself in terms of getting old, though it was just the beginning of what will probably stand as the five most fully-packed years of my life. Secondly, I had joined a band and was teaching myself to play drums for said band. Thirdly, I was preparing to become the manager of Video Zone. And I was still holding down the late Friday afternoon shift at KFSR, making radio spots for various shows, and maybe even attending classes at Fresno State.
Oh, and I was going through a devastating breakup, as it turned out that a just because you thought a light could never go out, it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t.
All of this is a long ways to go in pointing out that there might have been mitigating reasons that I didn’t love the final Smiths studio album, Strangeways, Here We Come, which came out in late September. I have a vivid memory of listening to it in Cindy’s car as we drove down to see Sonic Youth & Firehose in Hollywood, though that show was before the official release date, so it must have been an advance copy. Entirely possible!
And I also think by that time, I knew that the Smiths had already broken up, for reasons not fully explained, and that combined with it being the follow-up to The Queen is Dead plus over a year’s worth of killer singles & b-sides all added up to a record that was never goin to fulfill any kind of expectations.
And, of course, given that when they were making the record, the Smiths had no idea they were going to break up even before the record surfaced — and in fact, all report that they had a whalloping great time making it — what we have here is a classic transition album that never got a follow-up. And most certainly, a record that I underrated at the time, but I still think has a great side and an OK side, and a record that wasn’t so much overproduced as overarranged, with superfluous horns and strings — or should I say “horns” and “strings”, as they were done by Marr on his Emulator — cluttering up songs that didn’t need the clutter.
Ironically, I didn’t have any problems with the opening track, “A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours,” despite the fact that there weren’t any guitars on it. It’s a truism that all guitar heroes who are also songwriters and are not Keith Richards end up getting sick of the guitar, or at least sick of their tried-and-true style and experiment with breaking expectations.
And so the music on “A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours” is based around a percussive Marr piano part, and full of other keyboards, but it was also weird and near-psychedelic in places, especially the opening, where the first thing you hear is a wordless moan from Morrissey, and over Marr’s piano, the first verse starts in another place and time before it rides a martial drum roll from Mick Joyce into our universe.
I am the ghost of Troubled Joe
Hung by his pretty white neck
Some eighteen months ago
I travelled to a mystical time zone
And I missed my bed
And I soon came home
And then as the song settles into a groove that is vaguely reggaeish — don’t tell Morrissey — but also isn’t really reggaeish, the story continues.
They said, “There’s too much caffeine in your bloodstream
And a lack of real spice in your life”
I said, “Leave me alone because I’m alright, dad
Surprised to still be on my own”
Oh, but don’t mention love
I’d hate the strain of the pain again
Honestly, I don’t know what any of this means, but I do love the insult of of “there’s too much caffeine in your bloodstream / and a lack of real spice in your life,” which, regardless of the context, is completely Morrissey. I also like the breakdown during the “oh, but don’t mention love” pre-chorus, Joyce randomly hitting his drums in order to set up the chorus.
A rush and a push and the land that we stand on is ours
It has been before, so it shall be again
And people who are uglier than you and I
They take what they need and just leave
Morrissey reaching deep into his black pit of his soul to elongate the “aaaaauuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhh rrrrrrrusssssh” at the beginning of the chorus is a hook in and of itself. Which is a good thing, because the rest of the song is basically just the chorus and pre-chorus alternating with slightly different lyrics at the end of each chorus, concluding with his pleading of “phone me phone me phone me” before moaning “I think I’m in love” during the song’s outro, which swirls his voice around all of the keyboards.
Honestly, it’s a pretty good way to start the record, setting us up for, well, pretty much anything.
“A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours”
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