Let’s assume you all know who The Smiths are. Either you lived through their glory days and revelled in the subtle explosion of post-punk and miserable, melancholic undertones, or you found an old copy of their self-titled debut somewhere in your dad’s record collection and you’ve been hooked ever since (whilst simultaneously deciding whether you loved or hated Morrissey within the first few minutes of figuring out who he was).
Tomorrow, the record named NME’s greatest rock album of all time receives a reissue (partly in honor of its thirty-year legacy, following a dispute between Warner and Morrissey during the album’s real anniversary last year). The Queen Is Dead is the third studio album from the post-punk mainstays, and this year’s ‘Super Deluxe Edition’ features a fully-restored version of the original album, alongside two additional discs packed with unreleased demos, B-sides and rarities, and live recordings.
Unfortunately, the once-iconic name Morrissey doesn’t mean much anymore, and kids only recently discovering the band have no choice but to experience their music through a filter of racist-coloured bullshit courtesy of the band’s frontman and the easy access of a quick Google search. Nonetheless, this Throwback Thursday we’re taking a step back in time to before the ‘Pope of Mope’ sullied his reputation, and reliving the joys (and sorrows) of 1986…
With an unapologetic comment on the abysmal state of the country at the time (and in Thatcher’s Britain, it was only to be expected), title track ‘The Queen is Dead’ opens the record with a blend of mesmerising guitar grooves and droning vocals – a continuation of the signature sound that would ultimately embody the alternative culture of the 1980s. ‘Frankly, Mr. Shankly’ appears as an attempt to lighten things up with a more joyful and upbeat ‘jangle pop’ atmosphere (even if Morrissey’s lyrical themes fail to stray from misery and mourning), before ‘I Know It’s Over’ takes the form of a romantic and sorrowful pop ballad, combining the melancholic post-punk elements of the Cure with the heart-throb pop of Elvis Presley.
In a similar yet just-as-miserable fashion, ‘Never Had No One Ever’ floats through the record beautifully, before ‘Cemetery Gates’ portrays an ironically joyful undertone as Morrissey waxes lyrical about dead poets and bittersweet grave-side dates. From the latter half of the record comes some of the band’s greatest hits. Fan favourite ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ features here, as the track’s brash, comical demeanour solidifies its place in the listener’s memory, while pop-heavy single ‘The Boy with the Thorn in His Side’ takes a subtle stab at the record industry.
‘Vicar In A Tutu’ brings back some of that comedic value, but it’s highly overshadowed by what might be one of the greatest and most iconic Smiths’ songs of all time. The heavily romanticized ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ perfectly embodies the melancholic nature of the band’s music. Backed by an ironically cheerful flute, the track is said to be inspired by the James Dean film Rebel Without A Cause, in which Dean leaves a troublesome home life as a passenger to a potential love interest. Despite its almost-suicidal lyrical themes, this song has remained at the heart of Smiths’ fans since its release, and will probably do so for years to come.
Drawing the album to a close, ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’ echoes musical influences of The Cure and early Joy Division in its charmingly blissful guitar melodies. Despite critics referring to this as a filler due to its empty lyrical content, it maintains the jangle pop elements that the Smiths had so effortlessly perfected, and rounds off the album brilliantly. Despite Morrissey’s drawbacks, particularly in recent years, this charming, melancholic record will always be considered one of the greatest rock albums of all time, and rightfully so.
The Queen Is Dead (Super Deluxe Edition) is out October 20th. Listen to a newly unearthed version of ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’, below.