Rank, a concert album from the late, great Smiths, offers the liveliest postmortem imaginable. Rather than being an exploitative rehash, it realizes the greatest goal of a live album, namely, to offer a full reinterpretation of a band’s work.
The songs are significantly speeded up, compared with the studio versions; they are toughened up as well. Johnny Marr’s guitar is sharper, scrappier and fuller than anything he offered in the studio; it’s obsessive, ravenous and ever changing. He slams out chunky rockabilly riffs in “Rusholme Ruffians,” spins shimmering leads in “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side” and chews the scenery in “The Queen Is Dead.” Likewise, Morrissey sings at a breathless pace, spitting out lines, biting off phrases and making his venom understood all the while. The clear production drives it all home; every pricked guitar chord and sneered vocal phrase is made to kick. As a result, the wallowing quality of the studio albums is turned inside out.
While the band’s studio efforts excel at moping introspection, the live versions function like an exorcism. Their manic pace pushes Morrissey’s depression into anger, liberating his self-pity into righteousness. Better yet, divorced from the lonely confines of home listening, the Smiths’ songs in concert become the rallying points of unity for the alienated, as rousing and deeply felt as any of Springsteen’s anthems. In the process, the album captures the one element of the Smiths left undocumented elsewhere — their fury.