The Queen Is Dead

The Smiths

Reprise/Wea, 1986

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


For a band that existed only five years, cult favorites The Smiths definitely made an impact, which is best heard on their third proper studio album The Queen Is Dead. It's been lauded repeatedly by magazines such as Spin, NME and Rolling Stone as being one of the greatest albums ever created; then again, I've never been one for hype, so I had to give this one a spin for myself (add to the fact that Rolling Stone is rarely to be trusted…).

The Queen Is Dead is the most cohesive display of the band's unique sound. With most of the eighties defined by hair metal, New Wave and synths, the Smiths instead relied on the lyrical prowess of songwriting duo Morrissey (vocals) and Johnny Marr (guitars), and Morrissey's cynical, angsty delivery that has made him an alternative icon.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Opening the album is its title track, "The Queen Is Dead (Take Me Back To Dear Old Blightly)." It's the longest song on the album, which clocks in at just under 40 minutes, and features a lengthy outro that spotlights bassist Andy Rourke. The highlight of the track is Morrissey's acerbic take on the church, the royal family and British culture in general.

"Frankly Mr. Shankly" continues with a biting stance towards the music industry; lyrics like "I'd rather be famous than righteous or holy / any day, any day, any day" are the focal point of the song, while the steady bassline and acoustic guitar take a backseat. "I Know It's Over" has Moz in top moody form, bemoaning loneliness and lost love with the rest of the band providing a loose, dramatic backdrop. It's one of the finest on the album, with Morrissey at his most open -- he even uses it to close present-day live sets, more of a testament to its strength than I could probably make.

Also deserving of mentions are "Cemetery Gates" and "Vicar In A Tutu." "Gates," which manages to pack in references to Keats, Yeats and Oscar Wilde within the first 20 seconds, is an upbeat track with breezy guitars courtesy of Marr and a few parting shots to plagiarism, while "Vicar" is a loose, rockabilly tune whose odd title is completely befitting.

The Smiths, always adept at crafting successful singles, don't disappoint in "Bigmouth Strikes Again," the stick-in-your-head slice of pop which features lines like "Sweetness, sweetness, I was only joking / When I said by rights you should be / Bludgeoned in your bed" and helium-infused backing vocals.

But I think that may be just what's so endearing about The Smiths. Even at Morrissey's snarkiest or most despairing, the band always managed to be unique, controversial and indulgent. So, it's not hard to see why countless indie bands today cling to the Smiths, and The Queen Is Dead is surely their shining moment.

Rating: A-

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© 2006 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Reprise/Wea, and is used for informational purposes only.