The Smiths are a peculiar band; they tend to be the go-to 80’s indie-pop band, and are often classed as clichéd. Yet, their 1986 third album The Queen Is Dead is known both as revolutionary and pretentious. Regardless of what labels are held to its name, it’s arguably one of the most critically acclaimed albums ever. Ranked first on NME’s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, it is often referred to as The Smiths’ best work. The album features infectious guitar riffs, hypnotic vocals and the humorous yet haunting lyricism of Steven Morrissey. Whether you like it or not, this album is indisputably memorable.
Opening with title track ‘The Queen Is Dead’, the fast-paced drums played rigorously by Mike Joyce prepare you for a tongue-and-cheek depiction of the monarchy. ‘Frankly Mr Shankly’ features a catchy synthesised riff courtesy to Marr, and in typical Morrissey fashion, he says exactly what he thinks of status frustration and fame.
The album slows down for ‘I Know It’s Over’, where the mood switches to solemn and melancholic. “Love is natural and real / but not for such as you and I, my love” tells the tale of love which was not meant to be. ‘Never Had No One Ever’ is also on the same wave length of this; it talks of loneliness and pain (two topics which often crop up in The Smiths songs). This track is slightly whinier than its predecessor, but musically it is stunning, with a captivating and floaty melody and long outro.
‘Cemetery Gates’ is a more upbeat track, but the lyrics feature a serious issue; the song talks of plagiarism, an issue which Morrissey was accused of, and addresses in this track. ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ is a high point in the album. One of the most quintessential The Smiths songs, its use of experimental pitch, self-deprecating lyrics and rapid guitar riffs make it one to remember, and easily makes it the best track on the album.
‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ is a wonderful and perfectly written track about under appreciation in the music industry, essentially why it’s Morrissey’s personal favourite The Smiths song, whilst ‘Vicar in a Tutu’ is a short and silly track, describing an eccentric vicar not conforming to society’s standards (go him).
Perhaps the most iconic The Smiths song ever, ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’ is a seamless Britpop anthem; “to die by your side / is such a heavenly way to die” are some of the most chillingly beautiful lyrics ever penned, making this track flawless.
The final track on the album ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’, is an odd closer; it’s not conclusive, and is a filler track, with meaningless lyrics. Yet, musically it sounds remarkable, and from that front it does not disappoint.
As a whole, naming ‘The Queen Is Dead’ The Smiths greatest album is without a doubt perfectly justified by the brilliance of the 10 tracks. Revolutionary and pretentious are two words for it – I prefer, simply, ‘genius’.
Words by Anna Cowan