The Queen Is Dead- 1986- Sire Records
One of the greatest albums of all times (in this reviewer's humble opinion) The Smiths' 1986 magnum opus is beautiful, arresting, dark, hilarious, heartbreaking, witty, morbid, romantic, and massively influential. The whole 90's britpop (or 'indie' to you limeys) scene was created by this album. (This is the only less than desirable thing about it, but it's not really their fault, now is it?) I'm not going to waste time in the intro gushing about this album's merits, as I'm sure you've all heard it been gushed over before. Let's go right to the songs, shall we?
Opening with a sample from The L Shaped Room as stated in the above writeup, the massive opening title track is possibly the longest Smiths track ever, at 6+ minutes. It's got wah-wah guitars! It's got a bloody (gotta get in the English spirit here (I suppose one of you anglophiles might be miffed about a Yank reviewing an album that is so goddamned British, but, well, suck it)) drum solo for chrissakes! On a Smiths album! Blasphemy! Not really. It's quite tasteful. Anyway, the song is furious (well, furious for the Smiths. This isn't exactly Slayer here...) and aggressive, with The Moz's most acidic wit at full display, and Johnny Marr's gorgeous guitar orchestrations at their most epic and powerful. I'd supply a sample lyric here, but they've already been noded above, and in the spirit of the immediacy and conciseness of The Smiths, I'd rather not repeat it. Let's move on, we've got nine songs to go over, and I've only got a half hour before I must go to bed! Gracious me!
The second track is the brilliantly witty Frankly Mr. Shankly with its classy English Music Hall beat and some of Morrissey's most hilarious lyrics ever. A personal favorite of mine, it ends with The Moz singing,
Oh, give us money!
though I suppose the joke exists better on record than when I try to explain it. Oh, nevermind. NEXT SONG! ...but wait, first I think this song has been sort of ignored, it deserves more than just two lines. So here are more lyrics from it, to give an illusion that I care about my nodes. Truly, any line from this song is quoteable, but I'll go with:
Frankly, Mr. Shankly, this position I've held, it pays my way and it corrodes my soul! Oh, I didn't realise that you wrote poetry! I didn't realise you wrote such bloody awful poetry, Mr. Shankly.
I Know It's Over is absolutely heartbreaking, a dark and frankly rather mopey ballad that only The Smiths could pull off, (Morrissey has never claimed that he wasn't sometimes unbearably maudlin, but that's all part of his charm.) I believe it's in 6/8 or some awful time signature that a philistine like I couldn't possibly comprehend, and that's all well and good, but the key to this song, for me, is the lyrics.
If you're so funny, then why are you on your own tonight? If you're so clever, then why are you on your own tonight? If you're so very entertaining, then why are you on your own tonight? If you're so very good looking, then why do you sleep alone tonight?
Certainly words that ring true to such a sentimental fool as I, and really, isn't that the appeal of the Smiths? We lonely introverted folks listen to these Smiths records, and think, "why, look at that Morrissey! He understands my loneliness and pain! Not like those damned Rolling Stones with their sex and drugs and rock and roll!" Anyway, let's move on.
Never Had No One Ever could be my goddamned theme song, (which is why I like the Smiths, so much, I guess.) The Moz sure knows how to tantalize us lonely, sexually-frustrated post-teenage types. It's not much when it comes to lyrics, though. I mean, most of the song he's just singing
Alone, I'm alone, I'm alone, I'm alone, and I've never, never had no one ever!
and well, I can see why. Perhaps you'd get laid if you put a little effort into your songs, Moz. Keep trying, kid!
Then comes perhaps my favorite track of them all, the simply sublime and wonderfully misspelled Cemetry Gates. It's perfect. The cheerful, strumming guitars, Morrissey at the height of his lyrical wit (That is, writing a song about why you should not plagiarize, while stealing half the words straight from another writer's pages! Ha! I suppose if you don't understand why that's so funny, you probably don't like the Smiths anyway, cause that's about as good as you're gonna get), the melody is absolutely infectious and gorgeous, and Christ, I just can't say enough about this song. I could quote any single one of the lines, but I'll go with this one:
You say: "ere long done do does did", words which could only be your own, and then you then produce the text from whence was ripped: some dizzy whore, 1804
for the sheer childish fun of quoting the word whore. I'm so sorry.
On Bigmouth Strikes Again Johnny Marr strikes again, (Ha! I possess a wit so sharp that Oscar Wilde would be proud of that one. (Not really)) with those chiming and rolling guitars, and a riff that is almost metal in his heaviness. Probably some sort of aluminum, but really, it's the effort that counts, right?
Sweetness, Sweetness, I was only joking when I said I'd like to smash every tooth in your head!
Strong words from a meek man.
The Boy With The Thorn In His Side had its title cruelly hijacked by that rotten bastard, Pete Wentz, a man who should be bludgeoned in his bed. But it's still a wonderful Smiths popsong, with surprisingly straightforward and honest lyrics of love and devotion:
The boy with the thorn in his side, behind the hatred there lies a murderous desire for love!
Errhm, or something like that. Either way, a brilliant effort from Moz, Marr, Mike, and Andy once again.
Then comes Vicar In A Tutu which is another silly upbeat tune, with some nice western guitarwork and, you guessed it: witty lyrics. If there's one bad thing I can say about Da Smiffz, it's that they're not exactly the most diverse bunch. Still, any song with the lines,
The monkish monsignor, with a head full of plaster, said : "My man, get your vile soul dry-cleaned"
is obviously a classic.
Then.. ugh. I'm sorry, but There Is A Light That Never Goes Out is a terrible song that MARRS (Ha! Get it? No, you wouldn't...) an otherwise amazing album. Terrible in every way. Horrible music, horrendous vocal performance, lyrics that make me want to vomit. I mean, look at this drivel:
And if a double-decker bus
crashes in to us
to die by your side
is such a heavenly way to die
and if a ten ton truck
kills the both of us
to die by your side
well the pleasure, the privilege is mine.
I mean, what the bloody hell! This song is even an insult to the over-the-top romanticism that is usually Morrissey's forte. Oh well. Can't win 'em all, right?*
Luckily, the album redeems itself with the wonderful closing track, Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others. Guess what? It sounds not too unsimilar from every other song here. But that's not the point. It's wonderful. and I'm sure when Mozza was trying to think of a title for this new composition that Johnny had whipped up, he envisioned the sad fat girls that made up a good portion of the Smiths' fanbase, staring sadly into their mirrors, and he thought to himself, "well, they'll love this!"
Some girls are bigger than others, some girls are bigger than others, some girl's mothers are bigger than
other girl's mothers!
and, oh, they did.
Such is the genius of the Smiths, perhaps the greatest British 80's band. Morrissey seems as if he's singing just for you. and he is. I know he's not singing for me, at least.
Oh, give me C's!
*I wanted to make clear that I actually love There Is A Light That Never Goes Out but I figured this review had too much positivity, and this is the song that always receives the most accolades. It's my favorite track on the album, actually. Perhaps my favorite Smiths song ever! It's about as good as I say it's not, to give you an idea. Simply amazing and beautiful. Sorry for the confusion.