The Queen is Dead by The Smiths

It seems only natural that I review the album that I love more than I love breathing itself. No, this is the album that I must find on vinyl before I die. I cannot receive it as a gift, as a rule. I must come across it myself and purchase it; needless to say, I frequent many thrift stores and music shops in the quest.

“The Queen is Dead” is the Smiths’ third album, released on June 16, 1986, two days after Bastille Day in France, which is a cute coincidence, considering the titular disdain for monarchy that Steven Patrick Morrissey, the animated frontman of the band, possessed. It sold phenomenally in the UK, peaking at #2 in the charts, but waned ever-so-slightly internationally, only reaching #28 in Canada’s charts and #70 in the American Billboard Top 200. Despite this, the record went gold in 1990.

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These little statistics are moot points. The music speaks for itself.

The album starts with the title track, “The Queen is Dead.” The track opens with a sample from what is doubtless an old British film, then proceeds into a punk-influenced drum beat, followed by what Smith fans call Morrissey’s “chipmunk voice,” or a high pitched effect on his vocals. The effect quickly ends and switches over to the noted baritone of Morrissey who eventually delivers this number: “Oh, has the world changed, or have I changed ?
Oh has the world changed, or have I changed ?” Typical bastard. Ahhhh, and that wah wah from Marr at the end….

Following the titular track is the American Western-sounding “Frankly, Mr. Shankly,” a tongue-in-cheek monologue addressing some godawful, farting, illiterate boss that the Smith boys probably knew in Manchester. With lines such as, “Sometimes I feel more fulfilled, making Christmas cards for the mentally ill,””…I want to catch something I might be afraid of,” and “Frankly, Mr. Shankly, since you ask, you are a flatulent pain in the ass.” we are bombarded with that renowned Brit wit.

The beautiful “I Know It’s Over,” sounds like the kind of tune you see the lovelorn protagonist of a teen drama mulling over as his chips seem as down as they could ever be. It’s a ballad at the simplest, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the prom date that went to s***, a break up, whatever. It hurts to hear, especially the high shrieks of agony Moz lets out at the last minute mark. I got tears now. S***.

The second of the three great ballads from this album, “Never Had No One Ever,” possesses what I think may be some of the sneakiest examples of Mike Joyce’s percussion prowess. If you can take your ears off the angel voice of the leader, you can fully appreciate the clean snare rolls and crisp sounding symbols. Oh snap, at 2:16, somebody’s whistling. Is that the winds of loneliness? I dunno, child, I don’t. There are just some sneaky s*** in here, like laughter and crying. The mixer for this album was genius…

My 2nd favorite Smiths tune is “Cemetary Gates,” for good reason. First, the mention of Yeats, Keats, and Wilde automatically garner my squees. Then there’s good old Andy Rourke on bass, playing such cool, subtle lines that put other Alt. bassist so utter shame. That jangly Marr guitar though….GAWD. The progression may be simple, but it’s lovely. And I haven’t even delved in the attacks on pseudo-intellectualism Moz makes though out the song. I’ll let you take a gander at them, since I needed to focus more on the instrumentals.

My favorite Smiths tune, which I often play on guitar at ungodly hours of the night, is “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” Again, we fall captive to the “chipmunk voice” shouting, “Bigmouth!” and “Now I know how Joan of Arc felt.” Mike Joyce plays plenty of neat snare fills, while Andy Rourke holds down a relatively complex groove on his bass. This is probably the stereotypical tune for really picking apart Morrissey’s voice, what with the changes between baritone to falsetto and groans.

The next track is a personal favorite of mine and also Morrissey himself, though his coconspirator, Johnny Marr has called it “effortless.” “The Boy With a Thorn in his Side,” showcases more of Morrissey’s vocal range, reaching a crazy peak at 1:58-2:00. Beautiful. Excellent. Plus the lyrics of some miscreant seeking passion, a true boy with a thorn in his side. The jangly guitar, walking bass, and synthesized strings only add on to the cake.

“Vicar in a Tutu” is a clever tune, with a lot in common with the aforementioned “Frankly, Mr. Shankly.” Once again, the Smiths incorporate a beboping little shuffle with clever imagery in lyrics. Imagine, a vicar crossdressing! The irony!

Alas, the most famous tune by the Smiths, “There is A Light That Never Goes Out.” It is the last of the ballads on this great album. The lyrics and bass are the biggest standouts, in my opinion. That and the synth orchestra which strikes again in this tune. Why is Rourke so under looked for his skill? This bassline is fecking gorgeous, his best doubtlessly. “To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.” Well, Moz, I appreciate the statement, but that’s as creepy as it is beautiful. You play the insane introvert romantic too well, my good sir.

Ah, the ending of such a beautiful album: “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others.” The most impressive thing about the track is it’s beginning, fading in from obscurity, then out to absolute nothingness, and back again. It’s such an oddity to hear, but done right, as in this case, it’s wonderful. The guitar riff here is probably Marr’s best, any Ultimate-Guitar warriors reading this should give the tabs a look. Relatively simple stuff, but beautiful. Morrissey uses a strange effect similar to a trucker radio to deliver, “Send me the pillow, the one that you dream on, and I’ll send you mine.” Another great tune on Rourke’s part as well. You know, I still don’t know if this song is about women being fatter than others or having a bigger rack. After all this time.

Oh well, that’s the conclusion of my review. I hope you enjoyed listening to the album as much as I do.

Sources:

“The Queen Is Dead.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Sept. 2013. Web. 08 Oct. 2013.

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