Jake Oliver re-examines why The Queen Is Dead is still the prized jewel in The Smith’s crown
There are very few albums that are capable of standing the test of time and are able to leave a lasting legacy, but The Smiths’ third outing, The Queen Is Dead, refuses to be one of them. Released in 1986 during a whirlwind time in the band’s history, the album was met with high praise from fans and critics alike. Now just over thirty years later, The Queen Is Dead has been rereleased and remastered – but does it still pack the same punch? In a word, yes.
Drummer Mike Joyce propels us in to the titular opener, quickly accompanied by guitarist Johnny Marr’s jaunty riff and bassist Andy Rourke’s funky rhythmic beat. It’s an entirely hypnotic invitation to the album. The musical production throughout really sees the band performing at their peak, delivering sharp, punk-infused vibes at its most bombastic, and solemn slow-jams at its most vulnerable; a multitude of styles that seems to echo the turbulence in Britain during the mid-eighties as a shifting political and ideological landscape. Morrissey’s disdain for the establishment and the royal family within the lyrics are aloof, yes, but that is what makes it so thoroughly entertaining.
As a band that lead the charge against convention, The Queen Is Dead subverts the monarchy and the mainstream, pulling them from their lofty heights in to a more corrupt (and potentially more accurate) portrayal of society — a rather refreshing perspective that is just as relevant today in our post-Brexit, politically twisted world as it was back in 1986. This witty and ever-cynical tone is one that remerges again in the satirical ‘Frankly, Mr. Shankly’, a sharp jab at the music industry, as well as the frankly bizarre yet endearing ‘Vicar in a Tutu’.
Yet, nestled comfortably between the more outlandish tracks of the album lie The Queen Is Dead’s more tender songs. The Smiths were never afraid to delve deep in to the pitfalls and agonies of romance. Here they deliver some of their most poignant material. Tracks such as ‘I Know It’s Over’ and fan favourite of the forlorn teenager ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’, both detail the emotional passion that songwriters today can only dream of achieving.
There exists a strange comfort to be found within Morrissey’s harrowing lyricisms. “To die by your side, is such a heavenly way to die” is macabre as it is moving, the melodramatic nature of his words capturing the very essence of unrequited love in all of its desperation. Elsewhere, on the equally as heartfelt ‘I Know It’s Over’, are themes of isolation and loneliness with lines such as “If you’re so funny, then why are you on your own tonight?” The instrumentals for these melancholic songs complement the sombre vocals absolutely flawlessly, and it’s almost impossible not to be moved by the swelling crescendo of agony and heartbreak that these songs so effortlessly convey.
Meanwhile, Marr gets to work at presenting some of his most sophisticated performances on the album, with the furious ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’. It’s yet another fast-paced attack on the media, in which the frontman Morrissey likens himself to martyr Joan of Arc and is a perfect example of the sort of meta-songwriting that gained The Smiths such a cult following.
What makes The Queen is Dead so brilliant and so enduring is that it’s as darkly humorous as it is bittersweet; the hyperbolic nature of Morrissey’s lyrics are in line with our own occasional thoughts of grandioseness, making us feel a little less alone, and the excellence of the album’s instrumentals haven’t aged a bit and still serve as musical inspiration for some of the greatest bands of our generation. It’s an emotional titan of an album and if you have not already had the pleasure of listening to it, I implore you to do so as soon as possible.