‘The Queen is Dead’
Reviewer – Benjamin Smith
Thirty one years after its original release The Smiths’ third album, The Queen is Dead, has been remastered, released and had a bunch of rarities and b-sides added.
The album is notable for producing singles like ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again”, “Some Girls are Bigger Than Others”, The Boy With a Thorn in His Side” and “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”. It’s also the album that produced the criminally under-appreciated “Frankly Mr Shankly”, a scathing portrait of an ex manager and record label owner.
Listening to this album is like listening to a blueprint for so much of the British pop that followed its release. The lush enveloping melodies, the impossibly expansive vocals, the contrast of gloomy loneliness and jaded disaffection is all just so fucking blissful. It is gorgeously, indulgently self-obsessed. Morose, but stubbornly refusing to be self-aware, the lyrics are a showcase for Morrisey’s incisive wit and, in some cases, outright cruelty.
It is almost impossible to listen to this album now without contextualising it and all those britpoppers who so shamelessly plagiarised not only its sunny, spacious production but also its juxtaposition of sonic levity and thematic melancholy.
Listening to an enormous portion of records from the mid-80s, particularly pop records, is an exercise in self-flagellation. Production techniques so often obscure the bones of potentially great songcraft. The obsession with making everything fun seemed to result in a decade of what now sounds like musical fucking day-glo. Even artists who had produced stellar recordings only a few years earlier were allowing themselves to be caught up in the dross and tripe that was being churned out. In remembering that, The Queen is Dead seems even more miraculous. Produced by Morrissey and Johnny Marr the just-perfect augmentation is virtually flawless from first track to last and is the culmination of everything the band had done to that point. It is the highpoint of their catalogue, which produced one further record, “Strangeways, Here We Come”.
The Queen Is Dead Deluxe posters on the London Underground.
This release extends the original ten tracks into 23 with some demos of album tracks and some b-sides, the best of which is probably Asleep, originally released as the b-side to “The Boy With the Thorn in his Side”. The track is actually an incredibly poignant piano piece which mines the emotional fatigue of the rest of the album perfectly, but is also so weighty that hearing it as part of this package affirms the decision to cut it from the album’s original tracklisting. The other additions are probably gifts for superfans alone, often demos serving to showcase the insightfulness of including the tracks in their fully evolved state.
In revisiting this album one cannot help but be struck by two distinct thoughts, occurring almost simultaneously. Morrissey is both a poetic genius of profound emotional complexity and a total fucking arsehole drunk on his own superiority. His later solo work has some fine moments, and the preceding albums are home to some incredible examples of great British songmanship, but this album is such a perfectly complete package it has almost no parallel. It is an album to be revisited again and again over the course of a lifetime, and one that continues to reveal itself with every listen.
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AMNPLIFY – DB
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