The Album List #5: The Smiths “The Queen Is Dead”

Take me back to dear old Blighty.

My love for the Manchester quartet knows no bounds.

Everyone has those bands that implode but you remain devoted to simply because they were so very important to you when you were thirteen. I’ve listed about a dozen of them on this list alone.  But the Smiths were special.

They were always so very special.

It was the mix of humour and sadness in Morrissey’s lyrics, the sunshine pop and searing rage of Johnny Marr’s guitars. They complimented each other, challenged each other, and eventually pushed each other away. But for those brief years in the mid 1980s, they created some of the greatest music of all time.  It explains Morrissey’s patchy and at times controversial solo career, and Marr’s own spotty post-Smiths career with the The, The Cribs, and Modest Mouse. They are still linked as geniuses together thanks to those years. They were a beacon of greatness in a sea of mediocrity.

Morrissey’s humour gets lost in the “Great Moper of British Music” tag he’s been saddled with. Considering the enduring popularity of such Smiths songs like “How Soon Is Now”, which is one dark motherfucker of a song, and the post band slide into dourness it makes a song like “A Boy With A Thorn In His Side” sound positively positive. Which is significant considering the lyrics ” Behind the hatred there lies a murderous desire for love”.  Or the sheer beauty of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”, one of the greatest love songs ever. It might be my all time favourite love song, simply because of the deliciousness of lyrics like ” If a ten tonne truck kills the both of us, to die by your side, well the pleasure, the privilege is mine”. Well, true love is like that, right? I’m an old cynic. It appeals to me.

But oh, those guitars. Johnny Marr, one of the greatest living guitarists, a man after my heart with the chord progressions and the Rickenbacker jangle that made me love Peter Buck and Roger McGuinn so much. So quick, so inventive, so witty in its own right. He admits to using chords and figures as in jokes. Who the hell does that? Genius guitarists, that’s who.  On a song like “Bigmouth Strikes Again”, he races along at top speed, creating a swirl of sonic perfection in his wake, matching Morrissey’s lyrical grace step for step.

The album is completely fresh sounding, even nearly thirty years after it’s release. Whether it’s the sneer of “The Queen Is Dead” or the cheery melody of “Cemetary Gates”, the music hall touches of “Frankly Mr. Shankly” or the insanely pointless “Some Girls are Bigger Than Others”, it’s an album of contradiction and of fun. I know that both Marr and Moz prefer the followup, the darker and equally excellent “Strangeways, Here We Come”, but this album wins simply because I feel happy when I hear it.

Well, it’s a Smiths album. I feel happy any time I hear a Smiths song. But still, this one remains special, as it was the moment before everyone realised that the band was totally doomed.  It’s slightly naïve of me to think it’s still that moment. But I wish it were.


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