1986 – Rough Trade
Alternative/ Rock/ Pop/ Post-Punk
The Queen Is Dead, the third album from British band The Smiths, has received rave reviews from almost every music publication since its release. Allmusic, Rolling Stone, and Q all gave it five stars and Pitchfork Media (possibly the hardest reviewing site to please) gave it a fill ten out of ten, but I’m going to put my Kevlar vest on right now and say that this album really isn’t quite as good as everyone seems to think it is.
Now, I’m not saying it’s awful or anything like that, in fact it’s actually really very good, but I am going to stick my head out (perhaps stupidly) and say that it’s really not the be all and end all of eighties British alternative music, and you know what? When it comes right down to it, it’s not even the best Smiths album.
The title track is brilliant, full of the screaming white noise of guitar feedback, and the drums are excellent, and the follow up track, Frankly, Mr. Shankly, is amazing in its simplistic bopping melody and its wickedly comedic lyrics (courtesy of Mr. Morrissey), but, really, I Know It’s Over and Never Had No One are just self indulgent and musically uninteresting. I mean, the lyrics are fine, but Morrissey is not half as much a great poet as he thinks he is, and the music owes most of its kudos more to the record’s producer than Johnny Marr’s much talked about composing ability.
It does pick up again with Cemetery Gates, which is a nicely whimsical jaunt through the band’s disinterested romance with the mundane world and high literature, and Bigmouth Strikes Again, which does actually show off what Marr can do when he gets to play with composition. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and Vicar In A Tutu are also incredibly good in the music department, but the lyrics (and their delivery) in the former are, once again, overly indulgent, and, in the case of the latter, just plain stupid. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of the song Vicar In A Tutu, but you have to admit the lyrics are amazingly dumb. If you disagree then please go and listen to the song again and note all of the obvious rhymes, repeated lyrics, and sheer stupidity of the core lyrical concept and its execution.
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, as the penultimate track, fit into the category of songs like I Know It’s Over and Never Had No One with its frankly boring music and lyrics that just make me want to walk right up and punch Morrissey in his fabulously quiffed head. And Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others fits squarely into the category of tracks like Vicar In A Tutu in that, while it’s musically a lot of fun, it’s also just incredibly stupid. I mean, the band seem intelligent enough and Morrissey is a half decent lyricist so why on earth would you finish an album with a song as dumb as Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others?
Now, it might seem like I’m being overly harsh here, and perhaps I am, but that’s really only because I have been reading all of the review the ‘big’ rock critics have given this record. I mean, The Smiths were good (I might go so far as to say ‘very good’) and they were highly influential, but that doesn’t mean everything that they touch turns to gold, and that criticism isn’t due when their music isn’t really up to scratch. I, personally, like this album quite a lot and I think that it has a lot of merit (which I think will be reflected in my final rating), but I also think that there are many issues with this record that many critics (and fans) have overlooked simply because The Smiths are treated like alternative rock royalty.
And so, after much consideration, I have reached my verdict, which is that The Queen Is Dead is a great album and one which is well worth a listen, but also one about which you shouldn’t believe the hype. Don’t get suckered in by this cult of Smiths obsessed fandom, listen to it and make your own decisions.
Now, I have been incredibly harsh on this record and my reasons why were given above, but if you truly in your heart of hearts disagree with me on any point I have raised here (I realise that this album is very dear to many people’s hearts) then I am welcome to receive feedback.
Use the comments section (or message me on the Facebook Page if you feel more comfortable doing that) and tell me where you think I went wrong. I’d be more than happy to discuss it with you, debate it with you, or simply amend my position on this album.
One of the best tracks from 1986’s The Queen Is Dead
- Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 21 (sittingontheswings.wordpress.com)
- The Smiths: Not Like Any Other Love (themexicanpost.wordpress.com)
- There is a Light That Never Goes Out (merapoetics.com)
- Vintage: The Smiths “I Know It’s Over” and “The Queen Is Dead” (theredradio.typepad.com)