Break ‘Em Out: The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead

An acquired taste, but it stays with you for life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t remember when I started to like The Smiths, but I do remember that I used to not like this band.  I’ve heard from many people how influential these guys were and how The Queen Is Dead is considered to be one of the greatest albums of all time, but the music didn’t connect to me and I didn’t like Morrissey’s voice.

Then sometime ago I put my iTunes on shuffle and the song “Cemetery Gates” came on.  For some reason, I still do not know why, the song caught me off guard and I found myself repeating the song over and over.  Everything about the song was incredible, from the melody, to the guitar, and the bass – you know a song is great when you notice the bass.  I was hooked and I listened to The Queen Is Dead all the way through multiple times.  My listen of the album was like listening to “Cemetery Gates” that faithful day, there were short moments of brilliance and many moments that catch your attention unexceptionally.  This album might not be the greatest ever made, but it’s an album I would consider to be essential.

A good idea of what the album entitles is from the second track “Frankly, Mr. Shankly.”  At first the song seems like a joke, one of the reasons why I didn’t like this band before, with a funky beat and weird lyrics.  But soon the chorus kicks in and the beautiful guitar work of Johnny Marr come out of nowhere and stays present for the rest of the song – good luck trying to get it out of your head.  The songs on The Queen Is Dead don’t sound particularly special the first couple of seconds you listen, but if you stay with the song it will hook you in.  “Cemetery Gates” and other songs like “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” and “I know It’s Over” grow on you with each listen with the melodies getting stronger, and soon you start to appreciate Morrissey’s combination of wit and dark humor in his lyrics.

The strong tracks here are classics but the album does drag on for many moments, and Morrissey’s voice is an acquired taste.  This also isn’t a very happy album – hopefully you got that sense from the title.  It is a collection of songs that are mournful, cynical, and dark, and Morrissey’s lyrics sound like pages from a Victorian novel he should have written, but not everyone is a fan of Jane Eyre or Great Expectations.

This album is one of the most important albums of the 80s and of all Indie music, and if you listen to all the big Indie bands after 1986 you can hear a little bit of Morrissey’s voice and Marr’s guitars in all of them.  Morrissey in “Frankly, Mr. Shankly” sings, “I want to go down in musical history,” and with The Queen Is Dead he was dubbed the king of Indie rock – too bad the queen is dead.

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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