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Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Let The Day Begin...Let The Day Start!: Day 257 - The Smiths

 Rank - The Smiths
Rough Trade / Sire
Produced by Pete Dauncey and Grant Showbiz
Released 5th September 1988
UK Chart #2
US Chart #77

A1 The Queen Is Dead
A2 Panic    
A3 Vicar In A Tutu    
A4 Ask    
A5 Rusholme Ruffians  
A6 The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
A7 What She Said    
B1 Is It Really So Strange?    
B2 Cemetry Gates    
B3 London
B4 I Know Its Over    
B5 The Draize Train    
B6 Still Ill    
B7 Bigmouth Strikes Again

The Smiths

    Morrissey – vocals
    Johnny Marr – lead guitar
    Craig Gannon – rhythm guitar
    Andy Rourke – bass guitar
    Mike Joyce – drums

Live at National Ballroom
Kilburn, London
23rd October 1986
Full Concert
 23 October 1986
National Ballroom, Kilburn
    The Queen Is Dead
    I Want The One I Can't Have*
    Vicar In A Tutu
    There Is A Light That Never Goes Out*
    (Marie's The Name) His Latest Flame/Rusholme Ruffians
    Frankly, Mr. Shankly*
    The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
    What She Said (with Rubber Ring intro and outro)
    Is It Really So Strange?
    Never Had No One Ever*
    Cemetry Gates
    Meat Is Murder*
    I Know It's Over
Encore 1
    The Draize Train
    How Soon Is Now?*
Encore 2
    Still Ill
    Bigmouth Strikes Again 

* Not Included on the album release

Everynow and again an album comes along that irks me a little. It's not that I don't particularly like the album (because I do) but there are some things about it that annoy me a little. Rank is one of those albums.

Rank was the first and only Live Album by The Smiths and was released a year after the band had released their final Studio Album Strangeways, Here We Come, in fact the band had actually already split by the time the album was released! 

Rank was a contractual demand from Rough Trade. There's a couple of things about the album that I have never really understood.

With the concert recorded on The Queen is Dead Tour in 1986, why on earth did they choose not to release the complete show from Kilburn? It easily could have been released as a Double Album and it would have prevented some of the bad editing that is apparent in places on the album. 

This concert was recorded by the BBC for later radio broadcast but the recording was never broadcast in full. The most complete sets still lacked "I Want The One I Can't Have", "Never Had No One Ever" and "Meat Is Murder". 

I believe that Morrissey had a hand in choosing the tracks that would appear on the album and you just want to slap him upside the head for allowing in particular There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, Meat is Murder and How Soon is Now? to hit the cutting room floor! How much stronger the album would have sounded if even those three tracks had been included!

The best critcal review of the album I think came from the pen of Nick Kent:

"In Manchester this summer, the first Smiths convention is held, effortlessly attracting thousands of the faithful. In London the New Musical Express tirelessly trumpets ever emergent possibility of a Smiths reunion, each wafer of dubious information a certain sales booster. From elsewhere in the country, the Daily Mirror finds and runs a news-story in which a mother blames The Smiths for the suicide of her teenaged son ('He jumped in front of a train... There were Smiths records in his collection").
Little over a year after their exeunt, this force that we call The Smiths and their journey into the annals of immortality and cultural infamy continue ever upwards, categorically unstoppable. Their parting left a chillingly large hole in the pop landscape - one no rival act has shown even the vaguest dint of flair in helping to fill, and one, more urgently, that our Morrissey is having difficulty in supplanting, with his rather 'speculative' solo work this year. This is understandable, really. The Smiths were a phenomenon, after all, and like all other departed of their ilk, their very absence orchestrates an ever-spiralling 'appreciation' of the same.
Further orchestration will doubtless ensue with the availability this September of Rank, the much-anticipated live album, recorded almost two years ago during the group's final tour. First and foremost, like all The Smiths' records, Rank is a 'statement'. I mean, who else in this age of compulsory technology would dare release, as their one and only live album, an undoctored tape of a single live show already broadcast on BBC Radio 1? Some may accuse them of sloth and abject indifference to the desires of their fans (more later), yet The Smiths have always been committed to presenting their music in as 'unadorned' a way as possible, and Rank, after all, simply takes that attitude to its 'warts and all' conclusion.
So - what's it like? Well, it's good enough, good enough. Rank, you see, is mostly, unabashedly, hard rock, a fact that will undoubtedly surprise many detractors who never heard them live.
By 1986, the Morrissey-Marr partnership, having already well-founded The Smiths' archetypal plangent style, seemed bent on usurping a more orthodox rock backdrop for Morrissey's lyrical persona to niftily subvert. This was apparent from much on The Queen Is Dead album and, particularly, the release of 'Panic'.
The former's title track kicks off proceedings (after an opening salvo of Prokofiev piped over the PA as introduction) as a bracing exercise in punk clamour, Johnny Marr's scowling wah-wah guitar inflections underscoring Morrissey's scathing political burlesque of a lyric. This is immediately, noticeably bravura, not that silly shallow stuff which begat the term 'rockist', but the real article; music hard, charged and self-possessed, answerable only to themselves.
This sets the tenor of the whole album, though judged individually, some tracks are less convincing than others.
'Panic', 'The Boy With The Thorn...', 'What She Said' - all have received better live airings, whilst 'Still Ill', the only inclusion from the first album, seems to drag slightly. Rank's ascendant moments level all this out. 'Rushole Ruffians' and 'London' both hail from the band's most boisterous canon of music-making, yet here the twin measures of force and focus (Marr's high-energy guitar pop savvy; Morrissey's blunt idiosyncratic rhymes, naked hectoring persona and stabbingly acute imagery) merge into performances of epic substance. On 'Rusholme' the music seems to spin faster and faster, an aural Ferris wheel giddily threatening the same mindless violence its lyric details, whilst on 'London' it hurtles along like the train in the lyric, running on fearful uncertainties and portents of doom.
Rank's downside occurs when one searches for examples of the group's more classically plangent approach. There's a fine 'Cemetry Gates', the noble failure of 'I Know It's Over' (the studio version will never be equalled) and, best of all, 'Ask', here presented as the joyous pop 'La Bamba' for the Eighties.
It's here that serious grievances have to be aired. The Smiths were one of rock music's greatest live groups, whose ability to achieve a genuinely thrilling poignancy this live release only hints at glancingly. What this record lacks is the vital dimension of mystery and depth, that ultimate virtue in The Smiths equation.
It's this absence that rankles far more than the fan's disappointment at being seen-off with a live broadcast most of us have long since taped and filed away.
The point is this: The Smiths were the greatest rock band of the '80's because they seemed to function on sixteen cylinders when everybody was tootling along on four. Rank will do the job of topping the LP charts over here for a while to come and, I'll wager, it will finally truly break them in the States, because this is good bracing rock music loaded with cranky visions and authentic weirdness, and there is nothing musically in the air to remotely threaten its worth. In other words, Rank is The Smiths at eight cylinders.
It's an indictment of Rank that they've not allowed themselves to do better, yet still some testament to their greatness that at half their strength, they still sound so right."

- Nick Kent, The Catalogue

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