Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/25/09.
Following the release of Meat Is Murder, the Smiths were clearly one of Britain's rising bands with two studio albums and a compilation of rarities to help them. Along with non-LP singles, the Smiths were becoming a big touring band playing to sellout clubs where fans often would join them on stage. After a tour that had the band play to U.S. audiences, the band returned to the studio in the late summer of 1985 to record their third album with their longtime engineer Stephen Street. While guitarist Johnny Marr was dealing with exhaustion over the recording and touring schedule, the band was having some problems with their label Rough Trade. Despite the creative freedom the label gave the band, business issues hampered the relationship that would lead the band to eventually sign with EMI much to the dismay of some fans. Around the same time, Rough Trade delayed the new album for months after it was finished in the fall of 1985.
In September 1985, the band released a rough mix of their new single entitled The Boy With The Thorn His Side that would garner the band another hit. In early 1986, bassist Andy Rourke was briefly fired from the band due to his heroin use as he was replaced by former Aztec Camera guitarist Craig Gannon. When Rourke was decided to be brought back with Gannon as a rhythm guitarist, the band briefly became a five-piece where in May 1986, the band released the single Bigmouth Strikes Again that would cause anticipation for the release of the Smiths' third album entitled The Queen Is Dead.
Written and produced by Morrissey and Johnny Marr with engineering work from Stephen Street with the exception of one song engineered by John Porter. The Queen Is Dead is an album that expands the Smiths sound with broader arrangements, acoustic flourishes, varied styles like punk, rockabilly, British Invasion, and the band's rich jangle-pop sound. Along with the use of synthesized string arrangements by Johnny Marr, vocalist Morrissey takes on new lyrical territory ranging from the interpersonal to more angrier lyrics directed at critics, bosses, and other figures. The result isn't just the band's best album but also one of the best albums of the 1980s.
The album opens with the title track that features an intro of Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty from Bryan Forbes' 1962 film The L-Shaped Room where people are singing the song. The track fades into a rapid, rumbling drum performance from Mike Joyce that is intense and pummeling as it goes into a full track of Andy Rourke's driving bass line, Johnny Marr's chugging guitar riffs, and Morrissey's calm, engaging vocals. Filled with angst-ridden lyrics, the song is a powerful song that expands the Smiths sound with Marr's warbling guitar washes with a production that is more crisp and layered than in previous albums. Frankly Mr. Shankly is a smooth, bouncy track with Rourke's wobbly bass line and Marr's spurting semi-acoustic guitar washes. With Morrissey's quirky, witty lyrics, the song goes into a bouncy mid-tempo track thanks in part to Mike Joyce's pounding drums. With Morrissey's wailing vocals and Marr's driving guitar.
I Know It's Over is a ballad led by Morrissey's haunting yet dramatic vocals filled with melancholic lyrics and a slow accompanying rhythm from Joyce and Rourke with Marr's smooth acoustic guitar washes. With Joyce playing tapping beats for the verse and a more traditional drum accompaniment on the chorus along with Marr's rich, arpeggio-laden guitar melodies, it reveals the unique approach the band takes towards song structure. Never Had No One Ever is a slow yet mid-tempo track with Joyce's pulsating drums, Rourke's low bass rumbles, and Marr's washy guitar riffs with chiming melodies. Morrissey's vocals are dramatic in its melancholia as he sings lyrics filled with despair and angst. With Morrissey's wailing, operatic-style vocals and Marr's haunting keyboard accompaniment, it's a track that displays the band's unique sound taken into new heights.
Cemetery Gates is a smooth, upbeat track with Joyce's swift, pulsating track and hi-hat cymbal taps along with Rourke's rockabilly-style bass lines. With Marr's washy, arpeggio-laden guitar tracks accompanying Morrissey's calm, engaging vocals. The song's lyrics filled with subtle attacks on critics revealed his wit and humor as Marr's guitar and the band's rhythm provide a soothing accompaniment. Bigmouth Strikes Again is an upbeat track with swift, rapid rhythms and Marr's opening acoustic guitar washes. With Morrissey's calm, superb vocals leading the track, the song's lyrics are filled with wit and direct references over a character's comments. With Marr's intricate, apreggio-chime driven flourishes, the song features Morrissey singing in a high-pitch backing vocal as it's one of the band's best singles.
Another single, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side is a mid-tempo track led by Marr's washy acoustic guitar track filled with his electric, chime-laden flourishes and a thumping rhythm from Joyce and Rourke. With Morrissey's calm, wailing vocals, the song is filled with melancholic lyrics that are filled with despair and angst making it one of the band's most poignant singles. Most notably, Johnny Marr's rich guitar solo filled with intricate, melodic arpeggio riffs as the album version contains a background of synthesized string arrangements. Vicar In A Tutu is a rollicking, thumping track with bouncy rhythms, Marr's arpeggio-laden guitar melodies meshed with rockabilly riffs, and Morrissey's witty, humorous lyrics. With Joyce and Rourke providing a thumping, rockabilly style rhythm to the track, it's a song that works to maintain the Smith's sound in a different style while emphasizing on Morrissey's sense of humor.
The ballad There Is A Light That Never Goes Out is one of the band's most majestic songs with its soothing, mid-tempo rhythm, Marr's somber guitar washes, and Morrissey's calm yet enchanting vocals. Filled with lyrics about longing and loneliness, it's one of Morrissey's poignant moments due to its lyrics and an amazing arrangement of synthesized string by Marr to accompany the song in its chorus and coda. The album closer Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others fades in and out with Marr's intricate, melodic guitar flourishes and thumping rhythms from Joyce's drums and Rourke's wobbly bass track. With Morrissey's soothing, wailing vocals and melancholic lyrics filled with imagery-laden description, it's a fitting closer to the album that ends with a flourishing yet somber instrumental coda.
Released in June 1986, the album would become the Smiths most acclaimed album to date while reaching number 2 in the U.K. charts. In the U.S., the album peaked at 70 while being a hit record in the underground and college rock music scenes. Despite its success and acclaim, the Smiths forged on with non-LP hit singles as they were briefly a five-piece until October 1986 when Craig Gannon left the band. While the band would sign with EMI, the new deal would give the band the chance to be exposed to wider audiences in the months to come.
The Queen Is Dead is an elegant, superb, and brilliant masterpiece from the Smiths. Thanks to a layered and crisp production by Morrissey and Johnny Marr with help from Stephen Street and John Porter. It's album that is filled amazing songs carried by three classic singles and album cuts that are truly brilliant. Of the band's studio albums, this is the band's best album as it's an album that has a great flow of songs from start to finish. A sound that is broad yet simple and featuring some of Morrissey's best lyrics. In the end, The Queen Is Dead is truly the Smiths' greatest achievement.
The Smiths Albums: The Smiths - Hatful of Hollow - Meat is Murder - Louder than Bombs - Strangeways, Here We Come
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