Sound — 10
First of all, introductions. The Smiths were a hugely influential '80s guitar pop band, who went through various changes in line-up over the years but are known best as Morrissey (vocals) Johnny Marr (guitar) Andy Rourke (bass) and Mike Joyce (drums). The Queen Is Dead is their 3rd studio album and regarded by many as their finest work. Musically, the main selling point of The Smiths is the unique guitar sound of Johnny Marr. He may be the 'last great British guitar hero' but that doesn't mean he indulges in pretentious 10-minute solos at every opportunity. Jangly Rickenbacker riffs and chiming arpeggios are his trademark, and at times he plays just as fast as any shredders could. So, sound. The Queen Is Dead is an enormously varied album. It opens with the title track, which begins with the traditional British song 'Take me back to dear old Blighty' followed by a barrage of drums before the guitars enter for 6 minutes of funky, rhythm-heavy guitar pop - classic Marr. After a brief foray into cod-reggae for Frankly Mr Shankly, we see the other side of Marr in I Know It's Over Now. The first two minutes are sparse bass and drums with occasional 12-string chords, restraining and restraining until the first chorus, when one of the most downright beautiful guitar riffs ever written enters. A couple of tracks later, we're onto Bigmouth Strikes Again, with an enormously catchy opening riff, and the only true guitar 'solo' on the album - try playing it at the speed Johnny Marr plays it and you'll appreciate him a lot more. Then towards the end of the album comes the anthemic There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, with 12-string guitars and cheesy synth strings aplenty. So in short (well, that wasn't really short, was it?) this is an enormously varied album, whilst still managing to maintain a definitive 'sound'.
Lyrics — 9
Ah yes. I've covered Johnny Marr, now onto Morrissey. This is what a lot of people don't like about The Smiths, because to be honest he is a bit of a grumpy bastard and he doesn't have the most enchanting voice in the world. But listen to this album and you'll realise his mournful croon suits ballads like I Know It's Over perfectly. Singing may not be his strong point, but lyrics are. The Smiths are always credited as 'Words by Morrissey, music by Johnny Marr'. Living up to the creative genius of Marr can't be easy, but Morrissey does a damn good job of it. What's best about his lyrics is the personal level he writes them on. The opening track The Queen Is Dead talks about his disgust about discovering his being related to the royal bloodline, going on to tell how, in what's surely the greatest lyric ever written, he "Broke into the palace, with a sponge and a rusty spanner/She said 'eh, I know you and you cannot sing', I said 'That's nothing, you should hear me play piano'". Whilst he can quite easily convey feelings of bleak despair and unhappiness (I Know It's Over ends with the repeated phrase 'Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head') he can transform this into the anthemic ('If a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a wonderful way to die' - There Is A Light) and the darkly humorous (Sweetness, I was only joking when I said by rights you should be bludgeoned in your bed - Bigmouth Strikes Again).
Overall Impression — 10
The Smiths are one of the most underrated bands in history. They may have enjoyed huge success in the '80s, and there was the small thing of pretty much being the foundation of the Britpop and British indie scenes, but mention them to anyone nowadays and your response will probably be "Who?" And what annoys me more is that none of the shredders know who Johnny Marr is, or that he is one of the most talented guitarists still alive. The Smiths split in the late '80s. Morrissey has enjoyed a solo career which has gone reasonably well, although a lot of people (like me) argue that he's nothing without his creative partner Johnny Marr. Marr has been in various bands such as The The and Electronic, done a lot of production work and is now singing and playing guitar in his own band, The Healers. This has led to The Smiths' four studio albums (The Smiths, Meat Is Murder, TQID and Strangeways, Here We Come) being immortalised, and this is as good a place to discover their genius as any.