The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Anniversary

I Know It's Overrated: The Queen Is Dead Turns Thirty
Simon Price , June 13th, 2016 06:10

In the three decades since its release, The Smiths' The Queen Is Dead has repeatedly been hailed as the band's crowning achievement, and regularly features in lists of the greatest albums ever made. Lifelong Smiths fan Simon Price, however, is not so sure

Add your comment »

Let's pick up the mallet and the chisel right now, and carve this in white marble right at the very top: THE SMITHS ARE THE GREATEST ROCK & ROLL BAND WHO EVER LIVED.

I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it until the day the breath leaves my body. It's a core belief which has not been shaken by three decades of subsequent events: if it's survived 'Alma Matters', 'Roy's Keen' and 'Dagenham Dave' - not to mention what we'll diplomatically call Morrissey's bracingly traditional statements on matters of ethnicity and immigration in later years - it will survive anything.

When it's challenged by others, they often take a literalist tack, questioning whether The Smiths even were a rock & roll band. That one's easy: they were, in that they were a band who often played rock & roll. (For evidence, listen to 'Shakespeare's Sister', listen to 'Rusholme Ruffians', listen to 'Nowhere Fast'.) But that isn't what I mean.

By the early 1980s, alternative rock bands were all but indistinguishable from the decadent dinosaurs they were supposed to have overthrown. 'Rock & roll', as a rebel stance, was a busted flush. All leather trousers ripped at the knees, but not a single new idea rattling pea-like around inside its spiky-haired cranium. The music press' indie darlings were just as corrupted as the worst 1970s monsters: groupie-fuckers and drug-takers. Reading articles about, say, Ian McCulloch or Julian Cope dropping acid and listening to Syd Barrett records was utterly unrelatable for a smalltown kid who had barely drunk a can of Woodpecker but craved an escape route from the repressive Thatcherite orthodoxies suffocating Britain. (And, when you heard the half-arsed, back-of-an-envelope lyrics those artists invariably produced, their mindset didn't even feel like a destination worth striving to reach.)

Put simply, all bands were sluts. The Smiths were – or, crucially, they were as far as anyone knew – PURE. Their point-blank rejection of traditional rock & roll concepts of masculinity (the rampaging rapist-and-pillager, the survivalist hunter-gatherer), their rejection of acquisitive Eighties values (the imperative to SUCCEED), their rejection of sex itself (at least in interviews where the 'c' word – celibacy – was invoked, if not in their lyrics, which were often nakedly lustful), all amounted to an incredibly attractive form of dual rebellion. The Smiths were the ultimate heretics: refusing society's norms while also refusing to conform to well-trodden rebel cliches. Being the least rock & roll band in the world, paradoxically, made them the most.

As I wrote in Melody Maker almost a decade later, “At this moment, The Smiths were the most important band in the world. The Smiths played truant from the Pop Party, and thrived on the dual glamour of self-denial (celibacy, vegetarianism, temperance) and the occasional teasing flash of self-objectification (the hand through the quiff, the nipple bared through sequins). This was Male Lib: liberation from the prevailing Americanised idea of thrusting, healthy, socially-competent masculinity. The Smiths brought adolescence back into fashion: fetishised failure, romanticised weakness.”

The Smiths weren't the first band to matter to me, in that impossibly intense way that bands do matter when you're young. Dexys Midnight Runners had validated my solitude. Culture Club had offered me a different way of being a man. The Style Council had sharpened and radicalised my politics. But as the second half of my teens approached, the stakes were raised: rather than imagining what sort of person I might become or what sort of life I might live, it was time to actually live it. Rehearsals were over.

There was a vacancy for a band to guide me through. I didn't fall head-over-heels with The Smiths straight away. Their introductory interview in Smash Hits had somehow rubbed me up the wrong way, and my initial reaction upon seeing them on Top Of The Pops for the first time was half loathing, half confusion. But for them to be able to provoke such a visceral reaction meant that they had something. Suddenly, in the summer of 1984, it clicked, and I got it. Taking my week's wages from selling seafood to holidaymakers at Barry Island Butlin's, I walked into the hallowed Spillers Records in Cardiff and bought every Smiths record released to date: their self-titled debut LP, which had come out in February, the singles 'Hand In Glove', 'This Charming Man', 'What Difference Does It Make', 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now', and their brand new one, 'William, It Was Really Nothing'. Most importantly of all, I bought a ticket to the gig The Smiths were playing in Cardiff University Students' Union on 25th September, my seventeenth birthday.

Despite the ravages of time and alcohol on my memory, that concert still comes to me in vivid flashes. Arriving at Cathays Station, carrying no flowers because I couldn't afford any, but stealing some from the plant pots on the platform. The venue's floor a centimetre deep in spilled lager, and seeing petals floating on top. The Smiths raging into 'William, It Was Really Nothing', and some Neanderthal hurling a can of Heineken which arced through the air and caught Morrissey full on the forehead, a spurt of foam dousing his hair as it struck. The singer reacting not by flouncing off, but by defiantly slicking the beer through his quiff and carrying on with the first verse. It was love.

I'd started writing about music for the local paper, and proclaimed The Smiths to be more important than The Beatles (an exhilarating act of sacred cow slaughtering, a taste for which has never left me), prompting furious readers' letters. I shopped for vintage clothes at Jacob's Market and got a flat-top to copy The Smiths' neo-Fifties look, and developed fascinations with Morrissey's own obsessions (James Dean, Oscar Wilde). I turned vegetarian, which was not easy in Eighties South Wales. I hung on Morrissey's every word, and believed he was communicating via a direct hotline to my soul. I was that Smiths fan: the one who thinks only he understands Morrissey, and that only Morrissey understands him.

At teenage house parties, my Smiths fandom justified my own social ineptitude, allowing me to pretend that it was deliberate. Rather than peel myself off the wall and participate, I considered myself superior to the well-adjusted kids who paired off in darkened corners to snog to the sound of 'We Don't Need Another Hero' by Tina Turner or 'Careless Whisper' by George Michael. Walking home alone under the orange sodium street lights, I would feel somehow righteous about my failure, because The Smiths had made chasteness and abstinence into virtues (to this day, the worst crime pop culture has inflicted upon my entire generation, or at least a subset of it).

In the sixth form common room, I hogged the ghetto blaster, and converted several friends to the cause. And it really was a cause: Us, The Smiths fans, against Them, the U2/Queen/Dire Straits fans. By the time of their second (and greatest, but we'll come to that shortly) studio album Meat Is Murder, there were enough of us to travel mob-handed by coach to Chippenham Golddiggers for my second (and, though I didn't know it at the time, final) Smiths gig. At one point I stood completely still in the middle of the moshpit, staring up at him in frozen awe while a maelstrom of bodies whirled around me, which was a suitably unusual sight to cause Morrissey to tilt his head and raise a bushy eyebrow at me with a puzzled “Are you alright?” expression. I wasn't alright. I was alright.

The Smiths, then, were my band. But The Queen Is Dead was not my album. Literally (I couldn't afford it, so I had to borrow someone else's and home-tape it), but also in the sense that those U2/Queen/Dire Straits lads had finally caught up, and grudgingly accepted that although that Morrissey bloke was “a bit of a poof”, Johnny Marr was “a really good guitarist”. It was The Smiths' moment of mainstream acceptance. And if there's one thing The Smiths should never have been, it was acceptable.

There's a whole book, blog or radio series to be written about the phenomenon of the album directly before the iconic, canonical one being a better record (see also His 'N' Hers vs Different Class, for example). The way in which TQID has become a fixture in Top 100s of Greatest Albums Of All Time (indeed, in 2013 NME named it THE greatest album ever made) is reminiscent of Martin Scorsese belatedly winning an Oscar for The Departed when Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas went unrewarded. If there's one factor which rendered The Queen Is Dead palatable, besides time (The Smiths had now been around long enough for doubters, heel-draggers and johnny-come-latelies to climb aboard), it's the very thing that weakens its claim to greatness: a sense of humour.

When the media mocked The Smiths for their miserablism (Radio 1's Steve Wright In The Afternoon, for example, ran regular woe-is-me pisstake parodies), the fan's instinctive reaction was to leap to their defence, mentally assembling a stack of evidence of Morrissey's dark wit and droll wordplay. But in retrospect, that was the wrong response. Which only became clear to me a year after they split when Simon Reynolds, a year after they'd split, wrote the following passage in a Morrissey feature in Melody Maker:

“Why were The Smiths important? Because of their misery. Never forget it. Around Meat Is Murder the critics suddenly discovered Morrissey's humour: George Formby was trundled out as a reference point. If you ask me, The Smiths could have afforded to be more humourless. The Smiths' finest moments – 'Hand In Glove', 'How Soon Is Now', 'Still Ill', 'I Know It's Over' – were moments of reproachful, avenging misery, naked desperation, unbearable reverence – free of the 'saving grace' of quips and camp self-consciousness. If there was laughter it was black, scornful, scathing.”

Reynolds was absolutely right. The Smiths' unrepentant seriousness was their greatest strength. The Smiths who once began a song with the couplet “In a river the colour of lead/Immerse the baby's head” were the band worth rallying behind, not The Smiths who would eventually release the dismal 'Girlfriend In A Coma' as a single or include the equally atrocious 'Unhappy Birthday' on their final album. Morrissey's penchant for feeble comedy is the primary reason that The Queen Is Dead cannot truly stand as a great album, given that no fewer than three of its ten tracks are throwaway novelty ditties. But when did this tendency begin? Surprisingly early, is the answer. The arch, reflexive, self-mocking 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now' was already tipping a nod and a wink to the fanbase that he was aware of his own media perception.

The band's first two albums were mercifully devoid of that stuff. Debut album The Smiths, despite its flat production, and the flawless Meat Is Murder, the band's true masterpiece, are both measurably more satisfying as records. Each contains moments of mordant, biting wit, but they're always there to drive the point home, never just to raise cheap titters.

But this regrettable strand would continue through songs like 'Ask', with its “buck-toothed girl from Luxembourg”. Through 'Is It Really So Strange?', with the line “I lost my bag in Newport Pagnell” predicated on the Victoria Wood-like assumption that the words 'Newport Pagnell' are somehow inherently hilarious. And through the Carry On campery of “Do you have a vacancy for a back-scrubber?” in 'Half A Person'. And who's responsible? We fucking are. Ultimately it's our own fault for encouraging him, for praising the approval-whore every time he did it. It's why a good 80% of his solo catalogue is unlistenable: surrounded by yes-men, without anyone to rein him in, and with a slavishly adoring audience unwilling to hear any criticisms (still less to make any of their own), his pitiful LOL-seeking and his endless self-regarding in-jokes have multiplied unchecked. And it's why The Queen Is Dead is such an aggravatingly inconsistent listening experience.

The making of the album, at Jacob Studios in Farnham, was by all accounts a troubled time. It had been delayed by unforeseen factors which included bassist Andy Rourke's heroin addiction and a legal dispute with the band's label Rough Trade.

Nevertheless, it starts phenomenally well. 'The Queen Is Dead', well over six minutes long (though the original unedited take was seven or eight), carries the sense of a State Of The Nation address, but it evokes William Blake's nation of dark satanic mills rather than some Wordsworthian daffodil idyll. A snatch of Cicely Courtneidge's recording of First World War music hall number 'Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty' from Bryan Forbes' 1962 film The L-Shaped Room conjures a reverie of nostalgic patriotism before a squeal of feedback from Johnny Marr's guitar and Mike Joyce's you're-gonna-get-your-fucking-head-kicked-in drums, sampled, looped and pushed high in the mix by Stephen Street, pummel us screaming into the dystopian present.

The name of the album – actually taken from Hubert Selby Jr's much-banned novel Last Exit To Brooklyn, where it is used in the effeminate homosexual sense, but employed with deliberate ambiguity here - had already incurred the wrath of The Sun, who branded Morrissey a sicko. (He originally considered Margaret On The Guillotine, but ended up saving that for a track on his first solo album.) And that was before anyone had heard him advocating regicide in the first verse of the title track: “Her Very Lowness with her head in a sling/ I'm truly sorry but it sounds like a wonderful thing...” A staunch Republican who had already expressed a wish to “drop my trousers to the Queen” on the previous album's 'Nowhere Fast', he was raising his game by daydreaming of having her executed.

Morrissey's lyric is scattershot, unfocussed and rambling, but burning with rage as he contemplates vignettes of contemporary life such as “some nine-year-old tough who peddles drugs, I swear to god, I swear I never even knew what drugs were!” (his voice breaking into an adolescent yodel on the word 'were'). But the dominant narrative consists of imagined conversations with the monarch, echoing the recent break-in to Buckingham Palace by Michael Fagin, and with her heir, cajoling him to publicly out himself as a transvestite. Meanwhile, Marr channels the more fucked-up end of the Sixties (MC5, VU), his wah-wah guitars conjuring the psychedelia not of flowers and trees but of black smoke and city grime (and matched perfectly by Derek Jarman's accompanying film). “Life is very long when you're lonely”, Morrissey repeats as Rourke's bass comes to the fore in its closing conflagrations. It was the heaviest, most physical piece of music The Smiths – often wrongly derided as effete weaklings - had recorded ('How Soon Is Now' included), and one which, even with 30 years' familiarity, still has the power to stun you in your tracks.

I've taken this album out of its gatefold sleeve, depicting Alain Delon's death scene in L'Insoumis, and listened to it six times in a row in the writing of this piece, and each time, I laugh aghast with horror at what comes next. Following 'The Queen Is Dead' with 'Frankly Mr Shankly' is like releasing Citizen Kane on a double bill with Sex Lives Of The Potato Men. 'Frankly Mr Shankly', with its jocular rum-ti-tum melody and oompah bassline, is so outlandishly appalling that it deserves to be the subject of a public enquiry. The lyric depicts a quasi-Billy Liar scenario in which Morrissey dreams of quitting an unfulfilling job to pursue fame and fortune, with Leonard Rossiter's Mr Shadrack replaced by the eponymous Mr Shankly (supposedly a dig at Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis), and the backing track sounds like the Play School house band rather the work of Britain's finest. It's The Smiths' worst-ever song.

Imagine a counterfactual universe in which 'The Queen Is Dead' was followed directly by 'I Know It's Over'. You'd be reeling from an overload of greatness. An elegiac epic in waltz time, it begins with the word “Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head”, a line which is repeated in ever greater ecstasies of desperation as the song ends, defying the misery-mockers to scoff at this. The life-or-death vocal performance is a reminder that, like Bowie on 'Wild Is The Wind' or "Heroes", Morrissey's abilities as a singer are unjustly overshadowed by other aspects of his persona. (On a more minor level, there's also something pleasingly defiant about the flat Northern vowel sound with which he pronounces the word 'guts'.) The song's key moment, however, is the mid section in which, via the medium of a second-person interlocutor, he asks “If you're so funny”, and clever, and entertaining, and good-looking, “then why are you on your own tonight?” It's directed at himself, but it was an icy dagger down the spine of the listener, who suddenly felt a lot less smart, smug and superior on those long, orange-lit walks home.

If you were reeling already from that, then you'd be floored by what came next. 'Never Had No-One Ever', again in waltz time, is one of Morrissey's bluntest and best expressions of alienation, beginning with the direct “When you walk without ease on these streets where you were raised...” (Tellingly, the run-out grooves on Side 1 and Side 2 of the vinyl carry the inscriptions, respectively, 'Fear Of Manchester' and 'Them Was Rotten Days'.) As a stand-alone track it's inferior to 'I Know It's Over', but continues its mood magnificently.

For the closing track of Side 1, Marr switches to 'This Charming Man' mode with the breezy, high-pollen-count pulchritude of 'Cemetry Gates' (sic). The lyric, a petulant retort to critics who have accused him of plagiarism, has its levity levels set just the right side of tolerable. It's notable that he pronounces 'plagiarise' with a hard 'g' - a tell-tale mark of the authentic working class autodidact is someone who knows fancy words, but doesn't necessarily know how to say them.

The sleeve of The Queen Is Dead bore a pink and green sticker, reading 'INCLUDES THE SINGLES BIGMOUTH STRIKES AGAIN AND THE BOY WITH THE THORN IN HIS SIDE'. And this is another reason why, to the devoted fan who lived through all this in real-time (as opposed to the casual punter, or born-too-late catcher-upper), TQID felt like a mild let-down: we already owned two of the songs.

Of course, taken on its own merits, 'Bigmouth' is a fine way to start Side 2 of any record. Johnny Marr said it was The Smiths' 'Jumpin' Jack Flash', and he's not wrong: it has that same drama and attack (although a debt to Nile Rodgers of Chic is also apparent in the middle eight). And Morrissey's lyric of melodramatised remorse is strong enough to survive his own attempt to scupper it with those look-at-me lines about Joan Of Arc's Walkman/hearing aid starting to melt.

'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side' is one of The Smiths' lightest, most flyaway moments, but a real beauty of a pop song with an irresistibly infectious easy charm. The boy of its title is, once again, a third person who is actually a poorly disguised first person: it is Morrissey himself who, despite his hatefulness, harbours “a murderous desire for love”. A feeling of social exclusion is a common thread throughout Morrissey's lyrics, but on this occasion he keenly wishes to be involved: “And when you want to live, how do you start? Where do you go? Who do you need to know?”

Things were going so well, with just that 'Shankly' monstrosity to skip over, when another howler heaves into view. An otherwise perfectly acceptable, if somewhat slight, rockabilly number 'Vicar In A Tutu' is, as the title makes plain, a flimsy tale of clergical cross-dressing in which Morrissey expects the listener to chuckle indulgently to the alliteration 'monkish monsignor' and the rhyming of 'canister' with 'banister'.

The album redeems itself with one of The Smiths' deathless moments of transcendent genius. After a strummed three-chord intro from Marr (and anyone who claims they always knew it was lifted from The Rolling Stones' cover of Marvin Gaye's “Hitch Hike” via The Velvet Underground's “There She Goes Again”, before he admitted it in a Nineties interview, is having you on), the album's strings-driven showpiece 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' is a heartbreakingly romantic statement of devotion. Every romance needs a death, and in 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out', Morrissey dreams of martyring himself and his loved one in a suicide pact in front of a double-decker bus or ten-ton truck. But it isn't the wish to die which makes the song so powerful. It's the urge to live. Once again, his real desire isn't to stand apart but to participate, nose pressed up against the window of the real world where, through the glass, he can see the people, the lights, the young and the alive.

And then it all goes tits-up. Literally. One can only imagine Johnny Marr's face when he first heard the finished 'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others'. At this time, The Smiths' modus operandi was that the musicians in the band would create a piece of music 'blind', unaware of Morrissey's planned lyrical theme until he entered the vocal booth and sang it. Taken as an instrumental, the Some Girls' backing track had the potential to lend itself to lyrical profundity. Instead, Morrissey chose to use it as a vehicle for some half-arsed snarking about lads' obsession with big breasts, the culture of Page 3 and the celebrity of Samantha Fox and Linda Lusardi (although neither is named). It's like taking one of Francis Bacon's screaming popes and 'improving' it with the addition of a Comic Relief furry red nose. No wonder Marr is said to have spent two weeks after the album's completion locked in a room, sat immobile and depressed in the same chair, eating very little and suffering vomiting fits.

Ultimately, a ten-track album of which two had already been released and three were utter cack has no place in any all-time greats list. (Had it been condensed down to a five-track 12 inch EP featuring 'The Queen Is Dead', 'I Know It's Over', 'Never Had No-One Ever', 'Cemetry Gates', 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out', it could have been devastating.) And it could have been so much better. It isn't as if The Smiths didn't have better songs knocking around at the time: in the same year, the astonishing 'Asleep' and 'Rubber Ring' were tossed away as B-sides.

As another variable instalment of Smiths music, which offered up a handful of their most extraordinary works alongside a number of more negligible efforts, it did its job in 1986 as well as the band's equally patchy farewell Strangeways Here We Come the following year. But as a carved-in-stone canon-worthy classic, The Queen is dead in the water.

Maris Piper
Jun 13, 2016 7:50am

You're being totally unfair to "Sex Lives Of The Potato Men". It's one of the few films that gives real working class Britain of today a proper visual treatment. The script and acting is way above the level of the sacred cows of Carry On. Slagging it off started with the right wing middle class doing what they do and now its just lazy writing.

Reply to this Admin


Jun 13, 2016 8:42am

why does no one ever mention 'Hatful of Hollow'—THAT is their best album, compilation or not

Reply to this Admin

Lamplighter
Jun 13, 2016 10:03am

I switch between MIM and TQID as my favourites, but the music hall comedy does hurt TQID, there is no doubt. MIM is the masterpiece - my only problem with it is the fact that it is only 9 tracks when a perfect album should always have 10 :o)

Now what track would round off MIM properly (i.e. from the same sessions - or at least a lot closer than HSIN). Shakespeare's Sister?

Reply to this Admin

Nessie
Jun 13, 2016 10:55am

Talent borrows, genius steals, journalists whine.

Reply to this Admin

Showbizwhines
Jun 13, 2016 12:05pm

Very good piece. I too have always felt that TQID was overrated, mostly for the same reasons, but at the same time it contains what I think might well be their two greatest songs: the title track and I Know It's Over.

I think I'm with Johnny Marr himself in preferring Strangeways over the other non-comp albums. MIM cannot be 'flawless' with that awful title track and Andy Rourke's bass work-out on Barbarism.

If you had to have just one Smiths album, I'd say Louder Than Bombs, just for quantity and range.

Reply to this Admin

Johnny Nothing
Jun 13, 2016 1:06pm

Hatful Of Hollow is the one I send people to. The Smiths is the one I keep closest. Meat Is Murder sounds half finished. The Queen Is Dead is where the self parody became explicit. But Bigmouth Strikes Again on Whistle Test was blistering and the concerts around that time were glorious. I kind of lost interest after that to be honest.

Reply to this Admin

Jimi Fletcher
Jun 13, 2016 1:21pm

His 'n' Hers is so, so, so much better than Different Class it's...well, in a different class. DC is great, but HnH is so stupendously lovely and wonderful it's almost depressing. Regarding the Smiths, I do rate Meat is Murder over The Queen is Dead - 'Vicar in a Tutu' is a no-no, and 'Never Had No One Ever' is just overkill after 'I Know it's Over', but the rest is gold. MIM though just feels raw, rough, ready and full of intensity, plus it has my favourite ever Smiths songs on it, like 'Headmaster Ritual', 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore' and 'Well I Wonder', and I love the slap bass on 'Barbarism'! However, 'death for no reason is murder' is one of the clumsiest Smiths lyrics ever.

Reply to this Admin

Fuck Steve
Jun 13, 2016 1:51pm

The Smiths are absolutely the worst fucking band to ever exist and if you like them you probably find every high schoolers poetry "exciting".

Reply to this Admin

Ara
Jun 13, 2016 3:24pm

Love all the original and insightful points made here. As always, just brilliant writing. Those "orange sodium street lights" hit home. Simon - you are the BEST!!

Reply to this Admin

Red&Blackman Thinks
Jun 13, 2016 4:06pm

In reply to :

I tend to agree overall. "Light" and "Thorn" are extraordinary tracks, but as an overall "best album" you can`t go far wrong with Hatful.

Reply to this Admin

Velvet Hand
Jun 13, 2016 6:27pm

Hmyes, but isn't it just a bit arbitrary to call "Unhappy birthday" atrocious when the same record has "Death at one's elbow" on it? Also, I always felt that the bit at the end about being "the one you left behind" rendered any half-hearted earlier attempts at humour invalid anyway. Lovely instrumentation too, especially that sigh at the start!

Reply to this Admin

Jimi Fletcher
Jun 13, 2016 6:34pm

In reply to Velvet Hand:

I agree. 'Unhappy Birthday' is great! Strangeways is a cracking album - my only issue with it is that the production feels a little too polished for The Smiths - I prefer the sound of Hatful of Hollow and Meat is Murder.

Reply to this Admin


Jun 13, 2016 6:38pm

The Smiths were a bunch of cnts .None of their albums can hold a candle to YOU CANT HIDE YOUR LOVE FOREVER by OJ who they definitely ripped off

Reply to this Admin


Jun 13, 2016 6:38pm

The Smiths were a bunch of cnts .None of their albums can hold a candle to YOU CANT HIDE YOUR LOVE FOREVER by OJ who they definitely ripped off

Reply to this Admin


Jun 13, 2016 6:38pm

The Smiths were a bunch of cnts .None of their albums can hold a candle to YOU CANT HIDE YOUR LOVE FOREVER by OJ who they definitely ripped off

Reply to this Admin

Philip Mc.
Jun 13, 2016 7:36pm

Great piece, Simon, and spot on about the wretched Vicar In A Tutu and, particularly, Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others (although I have to admit I've always quite liked Frankly Mr Shankly), especially since, as you point out, a song like Rubber Ring would have made a much better addition to the album. It would have been a great album closer, as its inclusion on The World Won't Listen showed. As it is, Some Girls ... is a truly dreadful way to end The Queen Is Dead, particularly as it comes immediately after one of their - or anyone else´s, for that matter - greatest songs.

Meat Is Murder is definitely The Smiths' finest album. There's not a single weak track on that album. From The Headmaster Ritual through to the title track (slag it off all you like, carnivores - and, boy, some of you really do - but if you can judge the merit of a song by its effect, turning God knows how many people on to vegetarianism isn't something that can be so lightly dismissed; and anyway it's a fucking brilliant song so there) it's simply incredible, both musically and lyrically.

But ... but... I've only come to this conclusion in the intervening years. In 1986 I really did think that The Queen Is Dead was a masterpiece (and, to be fair, most of it is), the album that would finally floor the nay-sayers and prove there was nobody else around at the time to touch The Smiths' greatness. I don't know, maybe it was more to do with everything surrounding the album than the songs it actually contained. We'd been waiting for it for bloody months, for a start, and its arrival seemed to spell some Important Rock Event, highlighted by that NME cover containing no words, just that beautiful head and shoulders portrait of Morrissey. No words seemed necessary. This was The Smiths'moment, was the implicit statement. And kicking off the album with that monumental title track really backs up that idea of this being something really special.

I saw them live that autumn and they were phenomenal, possibly seeming more so than before with the beefed-up two guitars sound. However overrated it may be and whatever its flaws (and it certainly does have bloody great flaws), The Queen Is Dead will still nevertheless have a special place in my heart because it just reminds me how much The Smiths meant to me in 1986. The Queen Is Dead and Depeche Mode's Black Celebration were my constants that year, cherished antidotes to the horrific, bloated sludge that 1980s chart pop had turned into by the middle of the decade. Cynical and middle aged, I can now see faults in both albums I didn't (or wouldn't) at the time, but for my 16 year old self, both were the most important things in my world. Forget the hideous notions of officially sanctioned heritage rock and the nostalgia industry that taint the modern music world; what mattered then, and hopefully what still matters now with today's young 'uns, is being part of The Moment. That's what pop is all about, not fucking 15 page retrospectives in Mojo magazine. In the end, I suppose, how well The Queen Is Dead has weathered the last 30 years is wholly immaterial. At the time, for a devoted teenage Smiths fan like myself, it felt like the most important thing in the universe. And in pop terms, that matters far more.

Reply to this Admin

Phil McCracken
Jun 14, 2016 1:58am

At least The Queen Is Dead isn't as insufferable as reading this article.

Reply to this Admin

Vogonite
Jun 14, 2016 5:18am

I feel the same way about this album. It has some of the best Smiths songs but as an album MIM is much better. I even think Strangeways sounds more cohesive. Like many here I tend to refer people to the compilations as Smiths primers. Both The World Won't Listen and Hatful of Hollow because really their strength was in the singles. They were never really an album band.

Reply to this Admin

Vogonite
Jun 14, 2016 5:19am

I feel the same way about this album. It has some of the best Smiths songs but as an album MIM is much better. I even think Strangeways sounds more cohesive. Like many here I tend to refer people to the compilations as Smiths primers. Both The World Won't Listen and Hatful of Hollow because really their strength was in the singles. They were never really an album band.

Reply to this Admin

Gonzax
Jun 14, 2016 1:28pm

TQID is not overrated at all, the whole album is a masterpiece. Two weaker tracks, not bad, but weaker than the others and then you get I know it's over, Bigmouth, etc etc. "There is a light" alone is better than most complete albums released in the last 30 years. If that is not an album worthy of the "best album of all time" tag, I don't know what is.

Reply to this Admin

Paul
Jun 14, 2016 10:18pm

I completely disagree with this assessment. I can completely understand that for many people the slyness and silliness ruin many aspects of The Smiths, and in general I detest any confluence of music and comedy as it almost always ends up being a sad representation of both. But I think that it can be done well. It's one of the hardest targets to hit in music, but there are certain writers and performers that manage to pull it off, and Morrissey is one of them. (Bowie, Paul Simon, and Peter Gabriel are others who come to mind, but none of them generally are as outright farcical as Morrissey) The humour in The Smiths does two things for me: first, it counterbalances the bleakness which is found everywhere else in the lyrics, so that it doesn't feel like a relentless litany of depression, which is a problem I have with a lot of other music as well (Radiohead is a band who is often accused of this, but that's another argument), and it is much more in line with some of the lighter, fast-paced, and energetic music. The other reason I'll stand behind this all the way is that I feel like this is just who Morrissey is. Any incarnation of The Smiths that put a cap on Morrissey's melancholy, lyricism, or wit is on some level would kill their status as the "ultimate heretics" stone dead; the absolute best rock and roll is made by people who just do exactly what they want to, imho. For my money, the weakest song on TQID is Never Had No One Ever, with it's uninteresting chord progression, weak melody, and lyrical lament which is almost a caricature of the mopey rock that The Smiths were so often accused of. While other songs like Frankly, and Vicar, yes, are goofy, but they're energetic and fun and entertaining and just The Smiths going to places which almost no other band has been able to go. A Smiths discography removed of all the snark and wittiness is just not the same.

Reply to this Admin

M. SHAWCROSS
Jun 15, 2016 12:13am

I've never seen the humour in Morrissey's lyrics as an 'antidote' to the gloom or even, Lord preserve us, as 'light relief'. Right from the beginning he was a master of bathos and his whole image suggested an underlying sense of absurdity. Surely, bringing the influence of George Formby and the Carry On films into the style-crazed world of eighties pop was another aspect of what made The Smiths different.

Reply to this Admin

Mark
Jun 15, 2016 1:56am

In reply to Lamplighter:

The USA version of MIM included How Soon Is Now mid album.
There are your 10 tracks

Reply to this Admin

ERAYLANKESTER
Jun 15, 2016 5:49am

It's very title suggests that TQID is an album in which the self is to be taken at once very seriously and equally lightly. Self parody and campery is the primal British instinct of empowerment through self effacement. Unlike Delon, Morrissey cannot fully commit himself to the fate of a tragic hero - which only serves to emphasise the sadness of it all

Reply to this Admin

Anne Coats
Jun 15, 2016 10:08am

I think this piece is fair enough in its assessment. When the Queen is Dead is good it is unstoppable (There is a Light, I Know it's Over, Bigmouth, etc), but there are indeed a fair middling numbers. I think Frankly is a witty little ditty, but I agree that Vicar in a Tutu is expendable and that Some Girls are Bigger than Others' stupendous guitar work is undermined by Moz's lyrics.

I've always rated the Smiths' albums in order of greatness as Meat is Murder, The Smiths, Queen is Dead and Strangeways. Of course, to only list the albums is to miss The Smith's proficient legacy as a Singles band, that's why Hatful full of Hollow might well be their most complete release.

Reply to this Admin

Murdo
Jun 15, 2016 3:49pm

The problem here is a lack of perspective from which music journos frequently suffer, and that detracted from Melody Maker's otherwise useful critiques - far too much emphasis placed on the mood / subject as depicted by the words and not the music. As a musician I tend to concentrate on the music without paying enough attention to the words, and obviously journos will likewise concentrate on their expertise, but for me the strongest Smiths moments are the strongest musical moments, not lyrical, and at least half of TQID album are better songs than the 'pre-humour' four you list as standalone songs, and as a whole, it's a far more cohesive album than their others. So aye, the words are important, but the music is at least as important as the words.
(Besides, the 'humourless is better' argument would surely only appeal to music journos who take themselves too seriously, the MM stable known as the worse for this at the time. I realise this website is a spiritual cousin to MM but by the time the Smiths came along it had long disappeared up it's own try-hard arse.)

Reply to this Admin

Joe Cogan
Jun 16, 2016 12:32pm

"Frankly Mr. Shankly" isn't the worst Smiths song; that dubious honor goes to the title track of Meat is Murder.

Reply to this Admin

Chris
Jun 18, 2016 2:24am

I guess it's the American in me that sees "Louder Than Bombs" as a proper album, and the classicist in me that sees the album as the definitive statement, that I simply don't care that singles should off albums, and I don't view "Asleep" and "Rubber Ring" as B-Sides. I understand your problem with "Frankly", but other than the wompy feel of the first verse, the rest of the song is quite fine, and to me is more interesting than "Cemetary Gates", which is ok, but it just sorta sits there. And it's weird being a fan of Moz and admitting this, but I value music for, um, music, and I don't care that much about the lyrics of "Some Girls..." The music is great, so therefore, it's great.

Reply to this Admin


Jun 19, 2016 1:34am

Morrisey, Morrisey, Morrisey by Leo García

Sabrá tu novia que escuchamos Morrissey?
Que me extrañas más de lo que ella te extraña?
Sabrá tu novia que escuchamos Morrissey?
Con quién estabas la vez que te llamabamos?

Pero hay algo que vos no sabes
Y es que hablamos mal de vos una vez
Y bien de alguien que no conocés
Los dos nos cansamos del amor
Y vos no sabes lo que es cansarse

Ella escucha Bjork, Bowie, Beck
Ella repite la palabra Dj
Ella escucha el disco que te regale
Pero sé que no sabe de Morrissey

Morrissey Morrissey Morrissey
Morrissey Morrissey Morrissey

Sabrá tu novia que escuchamos Morrissey?
Que dejaste mis llaves en el auto de ella?
Sabrá tu novia que escuchamos Morrissey?
Que tus amigos saben más de vos que ella?

Pero hay algo que vos no sabes
Y es que hablamos mal de vos una vez
Y bien de alguien que no conocés
Los dos nos cansamos del amor
Y vos no sabes lo que es cansarse

Ella escucha Bjork, Bowie, Beck
Ella repite la palabra deejay
Ella escucha el disco que te regale
Pero sé que no sabe de Morrissey

Morrissey, Morrissey, Morrissey
Morrissey, Morrissey, Morrissey
Morrissey, Morrissey, Morrissey
Morrissey, Morrissey, Morrissey
Morrissey, Morrissey, Morrissey
Morrissey, Morrissey, Morrissey

Reply to this Admin

area man
Jun 21, 2016 3:50am

I agree with a lot of this, although I've always had the impression that all the 'celibacy' talk was Morrissey & Marr just leading people around, seeing what they'd believe and how they'd react to it...totally agree about 'Mr. Shankly' and 'Vicar...', but I gotta ride for 'Some girls...', even though Johnny Marr is my favorite and I know it gutted him, I think it's a track that keeps getting better and better as time goes on. It's great because it's even cheaper and more deliberately dumb than either of the two aforementioned songs. It succeeds despite itself, because the guitar is soooo beautiful, and the sentiment is so wistful and ridiculous at the same time. It's like the converse of 'There is a light...'. But anyhow, I'd also put MIM above TQID without hesitation. But on the whole, the Smiths for me remain more of a sinlges band. Nobody done singles better before, or since.

Reply to this Admin

Jock Hawk
Sep 27, 2016 2:03pm

In reply to Fuck Steve:

It's funny how the poetry of "sixth-formers" or "high schoolers" is derided by the same type of curmudgeons who implore rock and pop musicians over the age of 30 to "give it up". What is the right age for a person to create art?

Reply to this Admin

Gerard Fox
Dec 11, 2016 8:58am

Hatful of Hollow is a flawless piece of genius capturing the band at their rawest and most inventive. My favourite album of all time. Listen to it every week since I bought it aged 14 in 1987. Haven't listened to Queen is Dead in 20 years. Says everything.

Reply to this Admin

rob chapman
Dec 19, 2016 9:01am

This isn't even an issue. Strangeways is their best album. They started something they COULD finish. They went out at their peak.

Reply to this Admin