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Album review: The Smiths – “The Queen Is Dead”

17/12/2010

This starts off the review series of my all-time favorite records. There isn’t really any condition for an album to be a favorite – the music just has to be catchy and well-written, the lyrics must possess some meaning beyond the usual “love you” fare, but it only winds down to me being triggered by something in the sound most of the time. And on this occasion, well… it’s all there.

“The Queen Is Dead” is one of my all-time favorite albums by the virtue of being relatable. It’s quite simple, really: if you’re 15, you don’t have much social life, you’ve no girlfriend… etc. etc. etc. then you’ll be drawn into Morrissey’s world. There’s much of the same fare – disillusionment with life around you, “a murderous desire for love”, but with the usual touch of irony and sarcasm – Morrissey isn’t me or anyone, afterall, and he’s free to make fun of our so-called suffering. But either way, just like Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes, Thom Yorke of Radiohead or Kurt Cobain of Nirvana; Stephen Patrick Morrisey, whether he wants it or not, is one of the troubadours for the angsty teens all over the world, regardless of the decade we live in.

But Morrissey wouldn’t be as relevant if he wasn’t paired with a talented songwriter like Johnny Marr – who would never write a simple song based on the vox populi’s demands. It also helps that Marr is still one of the best indie guitarists, who can pull off the most complex riffs at any rate, any time – “Some Girls Are Better Than Others”, for example, which is seemingly simple, but as you take a deeper listen to it, unravels its intricate guitar patterns and fills.

And, of course, there are the lyrics. I don’t have a way with words – being from Ukraine with English as my third language – but the obvious part is that if there wasn’t Morrissey, Johnny Marr’s songs just wouldn’t be the same. Every lyric is suited to the song perfectly – you wouldn’t hear “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” without the (probably immortal by now but anyway) lines “And if the ten ton truck kills the both of us, to die by your side, well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine”, because otherwise it would sound out of place.

I’m also very drawn to Andy Rourke’s bass playing – while Mike Joyce is a good drummer at best, the rhythm section is perfect on every song. In some cases, the bass even has more melodic aspects than ever – “The Queen Is Dead” and “I Know It’s Over” being pretty obvious examples, where Marr mostly gets rid of his usual complex riffs and plays straight rhythm guitar. And I like the almost shuffle beat of “Vicar in a Tutu”.

You know, I’m already dried out with the review. I’ll just finish by saying that “The Queen Is Dead” is one of the best albums of all time because of it’s perfect music/lyrics combo, great playing from all people involved and Morrissey’s texts reflecting pretty much everything a teen would complain about – while he’s still a teen, obviously.

Highlights: “The Queen Is Dead”, “Bigmouth Strikes Again”, “Vicar in a Tutu”, “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”, “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others”

Lowlights: none

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