The Queen Is Dead

The Smiths

1986: Rough Trade/Sire 9 25426-2

  1. The Queen Is Dead (Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty [Medley])
  2. Frankly, Mr Shankly
  3. I Know It’s Over
  4. Never Had No One Ever
  5. Cemetry Gates
  6. Bigmouth Strikes Again
  7. The Boy with the Thorn in His Side
  8. Vicar in a Tutu
  9. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
  10. Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others

As many times as I’ve listened to this album, I still never fail to be astonished and wrapped up in “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” Oh honey have I been there…but Morrissey expressed it so perfectly, with so much poignancy, that it’s still a wonder. Love and death and hope and fear are interwoven over a never-resolving and emotional musical field as a scene is painted and underlined with longing as its only direction. You can practically see the singer’s anxious shining eyes staring desperately and furtively at the driver of the car the whole time….

“The Queen Is Dead” is of course the supreme kick-off track—it kicks viciously from start to finish after the interesting context-establishing snippet. The louder you play it, the better it thrashes, and if you know its video (by Derek Jarman) it just thrashes more intensely and significantly. The lyrics are both cutting and hilarious, with overtones of social depth that never need to be followed through. Probably the most obviously loaded line here is “but when you’re tied to your mother’s apron / no-one talks about castration….” Slick. It’s a track that flaps mighty and dark wings at a seductively danceable pace, rising midway through to a tasty and furiously crunchy groove that clearly will take no prisoners (again, the video accelerates this impression wonderfully). As good as Morrissey is on this one, Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke certainly match (if not outdo) him in sheer wild-yet-controlled energy.

“Vicar in a Tutu” is an amusing slice of Brit rockabilly, and I confess that I enjoy it just a smidgen more since I passed by the church in question when I was (fleetingly) in Manchester in 1999. I have a similar feeling about “Cemetry Gates,” as I wandered around that cemetery on the same trip, but the lyrics on the latter are wittier. As for the rest of this album, only “Bigmouth Strikes Again” stands out (and it’s a goofy treat, Morrissey’s sped-up harmonies as “Anne Coates” being a delicious icing)…the remaining tracks are alternately maudlin and coy. If I had to choose one track to toss from this set it would be “Never Had No One Ever,” simply because it’s so excessively heavy in its self-pitying pathos. (That may be Morrissey’s trademark, but this is a good example of When It Doesn’t Work AT ALL.)