I've often heard The Smiths described as the greatest British band of the past twenty (or so) summers.
But just look at the guys.
If anything, these guys look like a bunch of high school computer hackers trying desperately to fit in with the "in" crowd. With their wife beaters, tight mom-jeans for guys, and let's not forget that hair, The Smiths weren't exactly the most styling group there was. They're like the opposite of depressing.
Which is quite ironic, actually. The Smiths put out one of the mopiest albums of all time back in '86, following two majorly successful and wonderful albums. The Queen is Dead is described as The Smith's masterpiece, and it's hard to disagree. It's definitely a breath of fresh air after the uber depressing Meat is Murder
, considering as it has a mostly upbeat tempo to the album and the songs don't talk about, well, how meat is murder and if you eat it you're wrong. It seems like the bashing Meat is Murder
took straightened the band up. Instead of embracing their dreary, trudging and depressing habits, The Smiths seemed to shift their attention to creating a class pop album instead of trying to make a difference.
The maturaty becomes evident throughout the album. Instead of focusing on low-leveled, beaten-to-death and extremely repetetive topics as politics, war and vegetarianism (it's more popular than you think), The Smiths take a stab at the record industry's fixation on money (Frankly, Mr. Shankly
), sizes of girls (Some Girls are Bigger than Others
), and, more than once, shift their interests to moody, bleak and painful break up songs (There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
, Never Had No-One Ever
just to name a few). It seems that the guys (or at least Morrissey) have been pushed around a bit by producers and girls alike. However, as bleak as the lyrics get, the music is always striding on the upbeat, joyous and almost inspirational side. This is thanks to Johnny Marr's sharp guitars, switching from reggae-influences (particularily on Frankly, Mr. Shankly
) to clean, faint and quick chord sequences (Bigmouth Strikes Again
, the albums most famous single). And while it's already quite evident, it's quite safe to say that without Marr, the lone music director, The Smiths would be deemed just another post-punk group out of it's time. As the rhythm section, built up of Andy Rouke, referred to as "The Bass Player" and Mike Joyce, manning the drums, chug along to the pop melodies, if you listen past the seemingly un-penetrable wall of Morrissey and Marr, you can get quite a pleasent suprise. Especially in Andy's constantly octavating bass patterns and frequent use of scales.
The most overall impressive performance on The Queen is Dead
undoubtedly gloomy Never Had No One Ever
, which in itself signified that British guitar rock was making a comeback. What we have here is a relatively creepy song about - you guessed it - breakups. While Morrissey moans about the girl who left him behind and him stalking her (to a less threatening extent, if you can believe that), the band seems intent on creating a harrowing and echoing sound that, suprisingly, doesn't wear thin in the least. The chord sequences Johnny uses are, quite frankly (Mr. Shankly, *giggle*), astonishingly beautiful, while poignant with heart-break as well. All in all, this is a brutal, short and incredible listen, and is definitely the highlight of the album. Coming close, however, is the truly epic (yet shockingly short) Frankly, Mr. Shankly
, which boasts those infamous stab-chords by Johnny and the extremely rewarding if you listen slap bass, which is probably Andy's best performance on the album. And while the band continues on with their form of stone-age indie pop, Morrissey moans about the music buisness, but makes it suprisingly fun, especially when he boasts "But still I'd rather be famous, than rightous or holy, any day". The band's most enjoyable social commentary song, hands down, which is saying something conisdering their library is full of them.
Short, enjoyable songs can cascade through the album as well as, well, short depressing songs. Take Vicar in a Tutu
, which makes sixties-era Rock 'n' Roll it's great subject. From the assault of the drums sprouts the fast-paced and relatively simple musical performances, minus, however, Morrissey seeing as he doesn't stop singing and gives it his all. Though short, this song is perfectly timed, as being too great for filler but at the same time would have been unbearable if any longer. And hearing the bands transition from sixties Rock in the verse to eighties guitar-pop in the chorus is a truly great learning experience. This does also apply to the poppy, gargantuous single Bigmouth Strikes Again
, where the band takes whats on the radio (at the time, anyway) for a fast-paced, guitar-based spin. One of the faster songs on the album, Bigmouth
is a great listen, especially after the drearier songs that predecessed it. But the helium-backing vocals are acceptable at the beginning, but become more fluent throughout and wears out it's welcome quite quickly. It's almost as bad as, well, the way the band looks (with no disrespect, gentlemen).
What comes to mind when this album comes up is what I would like to call a mini-revolution, meaning it caused something to return from a short break. In this case, the Smiths brought back guitar-based British music that had gone missing seemingly since The Beatles
called it quits nearly twenty years before. And while some people may address this album as post-punk, it's hard to see why. Post-punk is dance music, if you will, with synthesizers shrieking and electronic drums furrowing about in the background, while also being extremely enjoyable. But The Smiths here helped started what is now called indie pop, which in the meantime has become more like post-punk than anything, but it actually meant something in the eightie's.
Thus, the ultimate question comes - Is The Queen is Dead as amazing as people portray it?
Well, it's revolutionary, there's no doubting that, and is unlike most radio-friendlier music that was playing in the mid-eighties. But Queen
has had such a name for itself in the past twenty years it seems impossible that such a thing could exist. It seems that this like a British tale of folklore, a myth. To answer this question, all you need to do is pop the cd in and give it a listen - it's nontheless an excrutiatingly beautiful listen, and the music itself could be the pinnacle of eightie's musical phenomena, but, like all other albums ever made, this album can only be interpreted by opinion. So, is this album truly as amazing as people portray it to be? I'll leave it for you to decide. But my vote is certainly yes.