The Smiths "The Queen Is Dead" - Retrospective Review
Updated: Jul 2
There were three albums in the 80's which set the stage for mainstream sucess and popularity of indie and alternative rock which began to really take off in the 90's into the 2000's. Those three albums undoubtedly were Doolittle by the Pixies, Let It Be by The Replacements and this one, The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths. With that being said, there were a handful of other records by great bands foreshadowing the upcoming golden age of alternative rock. There is no doubt that R.E.M, Jane's Addition, The Cure and the Talking Heads had their important place in the golden age to come, but man what an impact The Smiths made, especially with this record. With just the right amount of jangle pop, new wave, post-punk, and out of left-field lyrical writing, the hype and excitement created by this record only got better with time. With The Queen is Dead taking influence from the grandfathers of alternative music, The Velvet underground, The Stooges and The New York Dolls, the seeds of an alternative rock golden age were sewn, and three short years later it was Doolittle by The Pixies which was the slingshot firing off the golden age of alternative rock.
Johnny Marr is the master of the four bar guitar lick that sticks in the listeners ear. With tracks like Some Girls are Bigger Than Others and Bigmouth Strikes Again, Marr captures what he did so well in their self-titled debut which was lacking in the Meat is Murder album between their debut, and this record, their monument of musicianship. The catchy, short, four bar guitar riffs on their debut like This Charming Man, Still Ill, Hand in Glove and You've Got Everything Now were able to be expanded upon by Marr and bassist Andy Rourke with new more advanced riffs. The guitar-bass-duo produced much more intriguing and interesting riffs heard in tracks such as Frankly, Mr. Shankly, and the symphonic opening track The Queen is Dead. A walking-paced bassline, a developed and musical guitar sound, and of course clever and sarcastic lyrics by none other than Morrissey make Frankly, Mr. Shankly one of the finest B-Side tracks of all time. Johnny Marr finds himself with his arguably best musical composition on the closing track Some Girls are Bigger Than Others with a memorable repeating guitar riff which opens the song, and carries you to the end. A defining song in the jangle-pop sound which found itself spawning a ton of mainstream sucess in the 90's with bands such as Gin Blossoms, The Wallflowers, The Barenaked Ladies, and into the 2000's with groups like Guster and Vampire Weekend. You can trace that distinct guitar sound back to the 80's groups most notably the Smiths, but also R.E.M and early B-52's.
In true Smiths fashion though, the real one stealing the show here is front man Morrissey with this record exhibiting his best and most humorous songwriting ever. Cemetry Gates is always the first to come to mind with it's sarcastic and hyperbolic lyrics regarding Morrissey's thoughts on plagiarism and creation of music. A somewhat pretentious song, yet still as innocent as could be, and the somewhat negative nature of it, just adds to it's charm. The Boy With a Thorn In His Side, showcase more of the jangle pop magic that Johnny was able to create with the short and sweet four bar licks. Although it may not be a favorite (or favourite in their words) even Vicar in a Tutu has plenty to like, changing up the sound on the record to a rockabilly feel bringing out the drums played by Mike Joyce. A nice change of pace and a little bit of experimentation with pedal-steel sounding guitar work by Marr. The band turns up the volume one last time on the outro of Some Girls are Bigger Than Others with Joyce switching over the ride cymbal for the last 30 seconds or so, allowing them to REALLY play you out one last time on arguably one of the best albums of 80's.
With a bit more instrumentation than their other records, and a couple nice musical breakdowns (especially Bigmouth Strikes Again), the guys show you that The Smiths are much more than just Morrissey and his witty lyrics, and high-pitched encapsulating voice. The stage was set for some of the best rock music of all time in the explosion of indie which was just a couple years away. You hear the influence The Smiths had on music in almost all popular indie acts to the present including The Shins, Belle & Sebastian, Death Cab for Cutie, Phoenix and even The Strokes. In any good indie record today, you can listen to a song and think, this could a Smiths song. I'm sure the impact they had was not on purpose, but the sound they developed, and which peaked on this album lives on to this day. With the infusion of all the gamechangers in the world of alternative rock such as Radiohead, Siouxsie and the Banshees, XTC, 10,000 maniacs along with the walls The Smiths bashed down on this record, we saw the sounds of the indie scene come to fruition in the 90's and into the 2000's. A mere perfect record with a huge and evolving legacy. The Queen is Dead rightfully finds itself atop many ranking publications and seems to creep higher and higher with time.