Last but not least is The Smiths’ posthumous live album Rank. Live albums have always been the bane of my existence. On the one hand, there is nothing in this world like seeing a band in concert. On the other hand, having to sit through forty five seconds of track time dedicated to screaming fans is not exactly the most pleasurable experience. Rank is a great hybrid of the best qualities of a live album; not too much time is dedicated to howling British alt. rock fans. The Smiths sound stronger than ever in this live show, and Rank has the unique live aspect of combining songs from various albums (though most songs come from The Queen is Dead.)With the demise of The Smiths in ’87, Rank made bank on Smiths nostalgia. It is a must have for every Smiths fan who hasn’t seen them perform (and wants to sit on the floor in the darkness perseverating over that impossibility).
4 The Smiths
There’s no top five list of The Smiths records without including their self-titled debut album. It just wouldn’t make sense. Without this album, The Smiths wouldn’t have made any impression on the musical world. The Smiths opening track “Reel Around the Fountain” exhibits The Smiths’ archetypal depressed mourning. The very timbre of his voice, mixed with the surrealistic lyrics, set the stage for all that The Smiths were to become. The rest of the album flows steadily in this same vein from the first to the last track: “Suffer Little Children”, the horrific tale of the Manchester, UK Moor murders (exactly the kind of subject we’d expect The Smiths to sing about).
3 Hatful of Hollow
Putting a compilation album on this kind of is cheating, but what the hell – that’s what compilation albums are for. Hatful of Hollows, having made use of hind-listening, was the most artful smattering of Smiths’ songs on one album. Its opening track is the ’84 song “William, It Was Really Nothing” with quintessential Smiths sound – upbeat notes and tempo, with disheartened lyrics; the very cascading notes sound like “rain [that] falls hard on this humdrum town.”Morrissey’s lyrics wind abstractly around the theme of the song, where you can’t quite tell what the fat girl has to do with William, but you know it means something deep. It has hallmark classics like “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” (with cheeky lines like “why do I smile/at people I’d much rather kick in the eye”), and “What Difference Does it Make”. Hatful of Hollows closing track “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I” want is the truest, most honest song The Smiths have ever released. In its simplicity, it reflects what The Smiths did best – beg, plead, pray, and hope for some sort of change, without really doing anything to bring it about. It evokes the deepest kind of sadness – hopelessness. It is the short, bittersweet, straight forward lyrics and music that make “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” The Smiths best song. Period. Hatful of Hollowis an excellent compilation album, showcasing exactly what makes The Smiths so great (and Hatful of Hollow so perfect for the indie boy or girl who doesn’t want to sit through hours upon hours of Morrissey’s gloom).
2 Meat is Murder
Meat is Murder is a much more eclectic sounding album than any other. Whereas on The Smiths’ self-titled the songs blend in seamlessly with one another, each song on Meat is Murder has a distinct, yet they all fall under the chaotic theme of Meat is Murder. Just the album title alone is enough to somehow rattle your bones (though I’m sure carnivores would disagree). The album art has more of a shock value than The Smiths were known for, and hearken back to the tense era of Vietnam. Everything about this album is somehow disjointed and yet completely symbiotic in the sense that, in the end, all Smiths songs have that one quality (despondence, listlessness, or whatever you want to call it).
1 The Queen is Dead
The Queen is Dead has an oddly, almost playful energy throughout all ten tracks. Its title track kicks the album off with “Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty,” a song completely disjointed yet perfectly complimentary to the actual opening track. It sets the pace for the rest of the album to be much different from other Smiths releases. The Queen is Dead continues on to “Frankly, Mr. Shankly” and is equally as playful despite the bizarre lyrics – again, highlighting the juxtaposition of the bubbly music with the melancholy lyrics. The album follows continues on with tracks like “Bigmouth Strikes Again” which highlight Morrissey’s classic pitch-shifted vocals, adding a haunted quality to the songs. The album meanders through its eerie childlike light-heartedness to the closing tack “Some Girls are Bigger Than Others,” which is the nail in the coffin of this strange, creepy, pseudo-childlike album, laced with classic-Smiths depression. (Hey, “Ring Around the Posie” is actually about the plague, so who can fault The Smiths for such a strange juxtaposition?)
What makes The Smiths so great – despite being whiney English guys, the existential and obscure themes in their songs are easily accessible to all people who feel marginalized (and as indie-intellectuals I’m sure we have all, at some point, felt ostracized by the regular people who just don’t understand). These five albums undoubtedly make up the pyramid upon which their legacy was built. Any one of these albums is exactly what you want to be listening to when some regular person looks you over and quirks a brow… unless that person is actually Zooey Deschanel or Joseph Gordon Levitt. In that case, prepare yourself for the classic indie romance – sound-tracked, of course, by The Smiths.