Strong in all areas, The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths that can be enjoyed on many levels. With pleasant, catchy playing and wickedly witty writing, the album is full of depth. The more you listen to it, the more you see, the more you enjoy it.
Opening track The Queen Is Dead is a great example to demonstrate Morrisey’s writing skills. The song, and indeed the record, begins with an old World War One song, Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty, whose nationalist sentiments contrast completely with the anti-monarchist themes contained within the song. Dear Old Blighty it is no more, with nine year olds now pedling drugs, and Morrisey feels lost and ashamed. He is particularly abashed of his distant royal relatives, in the same way Hyacinth Bucket feels about Onslow in Keeping Up Appearances, and humourously uses the born into the royal family idea against itself.
“And so I checked all the registered historical facts
and I was shocked into shame to discover
how I’m the 18th pale descendent
of some old queen or other.”
This intelligent use of wit is a fantastic trait of Morrisey, and numerous examples are woven into every song.
“Oh, I didn’t realise that you wrote poetry,
I didn’t realise you wrote such bloody awful poetry”
Morrisey’s writing is very poetic, with imagery and adjectives galore – “loud, loutish lover, treat her kindly”, each word carefully chosen for its sound and its meaning. This is reflected in his unique singing style, the way he pronounces every word. He nods to many of his influences, namedropping poets and borrowing their lines. Cemetry Gates, ironically a song slamming plagiarism, is full of these allusions, stealing lines from the film The Man Who Came To Dinner and from Shakespeare’s Richard III.
More than confident, Morrisey’s delivery is cocksure and self-obsessed. (I remember seeing him live he wore a largely unbuttoned pink shirt, rubbing his chest in an erotic manner.) Whereas in ordinary boys these traits would be negative, Morrisey pulls it off and his exhuberance fits the music perfectly.
But Morrisey is only half the story. Beneath his singing lies the fantastic guitar work of Johnny Marr. Melodic and generally upbeat his playing has a pleasant bouncy feel about it, as on The Boy With A Thorn In His Side, but can also be slower and darker, as on Never Had No One Ever. Marr has left a powerful legacy on the music world, being a huge influence to bands like the Stone Roses, Oasis and Radiohead.
My highlight of the record is the amazing I Know It’s Over. Beginning with a soft whisper and the slow-pacing bass, the song builds fantastically, through excellent drumming, great guitar-playing and the ever more passionate singing of Morrisey, into a powerful cry.