Sunday, May 18, 2008

Classic Album : The Queen Is Dead

is there enough space on the interwebnet thingie, i wonder, for yet more to be written about the album The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths? this whole "internet" thing, despite rumours and stories to the contrary, was probably devised by people tired of sending tales of this album to mere national magazines, looking instead to broadcast the brilliance of it to a much wider audience. just in case there is space for one more article on it, though, let's go for a walk where it's quiet and dark, and talk about precious things........

released in 1986 (some 7 or so months after intended), The Queen Is Dead is the third of four "official" Smiths studio albums, coming after the self-titled debut and Meat Is Murder, the latter of which "gave choice" to the world, in the words of the Manic Street Preachers. as many see The Queen Is Dead as the masterpiece of the band, an equal amount see Strangeways, Here We Come as their greatest work. to be honest, i find it impossible to pick between the two, but as i now have Queen on vinyl, that's the one under discussion here.

the album gathered some notoriety at the time, thanks in large to the British Royal Family being rather popular in the 80s, and not the farcical soap opera that they turned into from the early 90s onwards. as i recall, Morrissey was allowed to hold up a sign proclaiming "The Queen Is Dead" once on tour, after which he was forced to replace it with a sign requesting "two pints of lager and a packet of crisps", a sign that inspired the name of a tv show some years later. whilst not a noted Royalist, Morrissey was not an open Revolutionary either, and has always maintained an ambiguous stance on exactly which 'Queen' was dead. there's no overt reference to Elizabeth II as such, but then again we do get the wonderfully wicked lines concerning if Charles ever craved to appear in his mothers' bridal veil. draw your own conclusions!

since we are on the subject of lyrics, let's have a look at them on this album. they certainly rank along anything else that could be held up to personify the genius of Morrissey. his greatest efforts with The Smiths did, for some reason, tend to fall on single only tracks, such as How Soon Is Now?. but then again, there's no knocking the words on The Queen Is Dead.

this is the album, after all, which contains There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. this is the one that features being hit by ten tonne trucks or a double decker bus, and dying by your side. for some reason it is these words that divides the world into Smiths believers and Smiths deniers. why this of all their words became a flashpoint i have no idea, but for me it is just classic Smiths humour.

and funny it is, by the way. The Smiths tend to be seen as depressing by people who are too lazy to listen properly; if they did they would soon pick up on the dark wit which lurks in this and all their records. the humour is at its darkest in Bigmouth Strikes Again, a rally against domestic violence in specific and bullies in general, and at its funniest in Vicar In A Tutu, where the protagonist is "minding their own business" whilst stealing lead from a church roof. finally, i dare say that the last track, Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others, speaks for itself in regards of this.

not that it is a comedy album, don't get me wrong. Morrissey is infamous for lashing out at people in songs (in later years, Sorrow Will Come In The End was removed from the UK release of Morrissey's Maladjusted album as it was deemed to be legally threatening to the ex-drummer of The Smiths), and this is there in abundance in the attack on The Smiths' record label in Frankly Mr Shankly, as well as a nice go at the critics in the deliberately incorrectly spelled Cemetry Gates.

the words of The Queen Is Dead are something you either get or you don't. wherever you fall within that broad spectrum tends to lead you to deciding if this is their greatest work in your eyes or not, i suppose. what one cannot really argue with is the music on the album. the band are at their devastating best right across the whole album, there is no space for slumming it instrumental work here. from the opening track all the way through, you are fortunate enough to hear music created by musicians on the same wavelength, something that the world did not to get to hear again until The Stone Roses unleashed their debut a few years later. an unsubtle and unapologetic blend of classical, rock, punk, ska and pop music are laced through each and every track; it really has to be heard rather than read about, dear reader.

i will say this, though - when "the drummer and the bassist" out of The Smiths took Morrissey and Marr to court for more royalties, it is this album above all others that they probably used to say yes, our percussion work really did make the music better and perhaps should have given them as equal a share of the cake as lyricist Morrissey and composer Marr. that probably won't go down at all well with the bitter Morrissey or the slightly less bitter Marr should they read it, but my ears do not deceive me, lads.

on the note of lads, it is The Queen Is Dead album inner cover which gave unto the world the iconic image of them apparently stood outside Salford Lads Club in Manchester. when most people think of The Smiths, they either think of this image, or that one of Morrissey waving daffodils around on TV (something that he only did once, and yet the image lingers). the history of this image is fascinating. Salford Lads Club were rather unhappy about it, as none of the band had ever been members and they were concerned that it gave the impression that they were. the picture was taken under quick circumstances - the lads all hoped out of a car, stood their for 30 or so seconds to be snapped, and then got back into the car. why this location? well, one suspects it has little to do with the Salford Lads Club at all, the more observant of you will note that it can be no accident that Morrissey called for them to be pictured near one of Manchester's most famous roads. just have a close look at the barely visible street name!

whether or not it is the greatest album by The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead is one of the greatest albums of all time. it is forty minutes of classic music, and belongs on the shelf of any serious, passionate music lover. they say that this album can turn anyone into a Smiths fan immediately, so if you are not, why not give it a whirl? both amazon and hmv have it at pretty much the same price as each other, if you need to find a copy. legally.

the Queen is Dead, boys, but it doesn't have to be quite so lonely on a limb.

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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