For many Smiths fans, Rank is as close as they will get to a live performance from Morrissey, Johnny Marr, and company. Recorded live at The National Ballroom in London in October of 1986, roughly six months before they disbanded altogether, these 14 songs capture the Smiths performing in full-on rock-star mode. Though Grant Showbiz's production and engineering work consistently places Morrissey's voice too loud in respect to the rest of the band, the performance is suitably epic, hit-packed, and engrossing. Morrissey is in fine form, randomly trilling and squawking throughout, providing enough cocky banter and personality that the fact that he's nearly out of breath for half the performance doesn't put a damper on the festivities. Highlights abound: the opening shot of "The Queen Is Dead" bristles with emotion and post-punk fury; "Vicar in a Tutu" sees an energized Morrissey employing interesting, bizarre vocal inflections and a series of endearing growls; "I Know It's Over" is perhaps more harrowing and brittle here than anywhere else in the band's discography, as Morrissey surrenders to emotion while the soil falls over his head. It's hard to tell if Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke were having their best nights, since their contributions are buried deeper in the mix than would seem appropriate. Somehow, Johnny Marr's distinctive, manic jangle manages to escape the production and demand attention, especially on his solo creation "The Draize Train." Still, one has to wonder why "The Draize Train" was included over such staples as "How Soon Is Now," "I Want the One I Can't Have," and the eight other songs that were recorded during the concert but not included on the album. Perhaps they weren't seen as worthy representations, but there is certainly additional time left available on the CD edition, where at least two or three more songs could have been added. It really would be interesting to see how the band tackled "Meat Is Murder," "How Soon Is Now," and "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" that night. Absolute completists might want to track down the bootleg recording ...The Bad Boy From a Good Family, which presents the National Ballroom concert in a more complete light. Rank is an essential part of any Smiths fan's collection, and it's an enlightening live peek at a foursome who many deem the greatest band of the 1980s, and more than a few others deem the last great band period.
AllMusic Review by Tim DiGravina