The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead (Cover Artwork)

The Smiths

The Queen Is Dead (1986)

Rough Trade

"Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty", a sound bite from the 1962 British film, The L Shaped Room, starts off the title track from this classic, and arguably best album by the Smiths, The Queen Is Dead. Frontman Morrissey's fascination with '60s British cinema was often used as layers, and it bleeds out quickly as the track bursts forth with the energetic drumming of Mike Joyce and the guitars of Johnny Marr. The so-called punkness of the Smiths comes forth, never ceasing until the very end of its almost seven-minute length. This era is highly touted as the peak of the band's career, what with two amazing albums such as this and the predecessor, Meat Is Murder. For many years, these albums have been studied, befriended, loved, hated, buried, dug up, and refreshed in the queues of many people. The complete fascination and affectionate dedication to the mope-rock that the Smiths made is sheer madness in the eyes of the bewildered. Of course, the fans couldn't give a flip in that regard.

Morrissey never sounded better than he did on this album. Tracks like the elegant and dramatic "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out", the frustrated and seedy "Bigmouth Strikes Again", and the intimate "I Know It's Over" stand out as the showcasing of a talented frontman backed up by wonderful musicians. The interesting track is the mentioned bigmouth. Morrissey's background vocals are sped up and the acoustic guitars mix well with Marr's awesome post-punk squeal. Also of note is the great bass work of Andy Rourke, a guy who was sacked after making the album, then eventually let back right before its release. The Edge must have studied these guys (and Joy Division), because U2 sure did ape this stuff back in their scruffy beginnings. Anyway, nothing but greatness can be said about the rest of the tracks. Marr and the gang were the Smiths just as much as Morrissey, and the musicianship gelled within the confines of this sad/happy music.

"Vicar in a Tutu" is charming because it's almost a rockabilly tune. Marr seems to pull off a weird country pluck twang in the groove of a well-mastered punk flow. Morrissey also seems to be having fun on the track, the singing representing a guy having wit and Sinatra leanings. "Croon" might be the word to best describe his vocal approach, and that can fit on just about every song here. And with no exception, the highlight of the album is a light that never goes out. It's just pure pop done right, and with interestingly catchy lyrics such as: "And if a 10-ton truck kills the both of us / to die by your side / the pleasure / the privilege is mine." It's an angsty, almost journalistic story brought forth by a grown-assed man who is relishing in his desires. A bit too dramatic...but nonetheless greatly done.

In 2003, Morrissey claimed the song "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side" as his favorite. Marr stated it as "an effortless piece of music." The meaning behind the track deals with the band's displeasure of the music industry that failed to appreciate them. This might come off as self-righteous and arrogant, but it's the Smiths we're talking about here. Later years this habit would manifest itself into parody, with people rolling their eyes to the drama queen spectacles. But let's not take for granted the seriousness of the band's testament to basic anti-establishment philosophies, Morrissey being the most outspoken. This radical style was ignored in the '90s Britpop explosion in lieu of money-making, but those bands sure did love the style of the Smiths. Thus, the band stands out as a figurehead in art and independent thinking, but always to be copied and dragged over.

A perfect album is questionable and very hard to come by; reviews these days throw out perfect scores like free grab bags. To take music seriously, labeling an album as "perfect" is a risky risk of epic proportions that often leads to one shooting him/herself in the foot. Not to be taken for granted, the perfect score can be a trump card to get people riled up, or just an elephant in the room. A depressing, self-deprecating album hidden behind great pop leanings, The Queen Is Dead stands atop this mount as either/or. Take it for what you will, but this is a damn fine album by any means.

"It's a pity you didn't sign the Smiths..."–God speaking to Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People