Right. If I don’t do this now, my entire review will be a rant:
Here I describe what I’m going to call the “Melody Pit”. Above is a photo of my keyboard; on the left is highlighted a minor third. The problem is every Smiths melody not only utilises it, they barely stray from it. If YOU would like to write a Smiths melody, take a look at the keyboard on the right. Stay on the dark blue circle as much as possible, hop down every once in a while but generally stay in the top three notes. Basically hop up the minor third then back down via a passing note as highlighted. Here you are aiming to sound like a melancholic ambulance.
I have to joke a little and that’s just because every Smiths melody seems exactly the same to me. Ok! Now to the album.
It’s widely regarded as the Magnum Opus of the Smiths and for good reason. For an 80’s album it is not dated at all. The titular first track The Queen is Dead could well be written now and features a great upbeat drum with some beautiful chord sequences. I really like this track and it’s sort of an exploration into what was an aging punk scene – rallying the anarchy side and reiterating Morrissey’s fairly well publicised anti-royalist views.
The bouncier Frankly Mr. Shankly, I’m afraid is the victim of the Smiths melody point stated above but its a solid enough piece critiquing those obsessed in the music industry, specifically this is a shot at the head of Rough Trade, who the Smiths were signed up with at the time. With the end of this track we head into the territory of the breakup song I Know It’s Over and I have to confess to just getting a little absorbed here. I made a point to listening to the message and song as a whole, then returning to just listening to the backing and I have to say, once you mentally extract the lead singers wailing, the instrumentation is pretty damn wonderful. I don’t hate Morrissey here and he certainly enhances the track but for me the whole body can get tiresome.
No, sorry; I was wrong. Never Had No One Ever, the fourth track is a problem. It is exactly the same vibe as the previous track but less good in every respect. I have actually enjoyed the album to this point and more than I thought I would, not being a Smiths fan. This track, however is too much of a durge for me — too samey with my mind picturing a Monty Python style “get on with it”.
Cemetry Gates thankfully picks up to a more upbeat feel with well paced guitar and its message is pretty solid about misappropriation of other people’s quotes. I mean, you can’t accuse the lyrics of being vapid and they are clearly being written by someone who has lots of good ideas. This is more the type I can get into, which is a shame because we return to the melody pit in Bigmouth Strikes Again. To be honest this is just run of the mill stuff and there isn’t much to say here.
The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was a bit of a flop for me. I think this is because that opening sounded so different again before dropping me down into the same stuff that I have already described. I feel so pulled in two directions with this album it falls into repetitiveness that I knew it would a lot … but not every time… and then… Yes! Vicar In A Tutu is different! It’s lighter and sillier (though still mocking because there has to be some angst with Morrissey) but I really quite enjoyed this song and backing is great…(Melody pit).
The final two tracks are pretty solidly written and a lot more signature Smiths and if you are into that, they won’t disappoint. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out is pretty nice, talking about love (and how the chap would be happy to die in a car crash with his partner) but it is so representative with its nice synth strings and pleasing backing, I can’t fault too much. (Melody Pit). Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others is a lot more varied in that its a lot more in terms of variety. The music is richer, the melody pit is climbed slightly and consequently the lyrics are pretty bizarre to be honest. The title of the track is about as deep as the song goes and that’s the shame: there is no perfect track on the album as nothing ticks every box… hmm
Is this album for you?
Smiths fans already know they like the Smiths but if you aren’t one of these people I have to say with some genuinely solid writing, this album may be the one that gets you to explore some of the best of the group (and showcase the Melody Pit). There are glaring faults for me and I am never going to love the band. I’m not sure if Morrissey is cynical because of lost loves or if he lost loves and is also cynical. One thing’s for sure: if he feels he has a good lot anywhere in life, he’s forgotten to tell us.
- Writing: 7/10 (Some great, some vapid)
- Performance: 8.5/10
- Style: 7.5/10 (It was really going to be lower but I can’t deny a lot of talent)