The Queen Is Dead
(30th Anniversary edition)
Review by Jason Leigh
The Queen Is Dead has always been regarded as a significant album in the Smiths canon. It was the third of four studio albums amongst a total of six if counting the contemporaneously released compilations. Although not explicitly stated, this is a 30th anniversary edition released after 31 years, unintentionally paralleling the initial delayed release due to legal issues relating to their proposed defection from the Rough Trade independent label. The perceived importance of this album is reinforced by the fact that in the years following an exhaustive reissue campaign, this is the only album to have a deluxe edition so far. The review copy is the 2CD with a disc of demo versions and b-sides but a 3CD + DVD box is available.
The Smiths were a band able to draw from the past without imitating it and did not follow trends. The partnership of Morrissey (words) and Marr (music) was such juxtaposition that they still do not sound quite like any other band, discounting those that came in their wake and took on their style. Morrissey has an unusual way of singing that has all too often been imitated and this does take away from listening to it now but at the time in the context of the eighties there was nothing else out there like it.
The degree to which Morrissey places himself within the songs can vary widely. There is the semi autobiography of “Frankly, Mr Shankly” about Rough Trade label head Geoff Travis, and the musically upbeat “Cemetry Gates” (sic) referencing Keats, Yeats, and Oscar Wilde. The personal songs include the melancholy “I Know It’s Over”, and the almost reprise of “Never Had No One Ever”. Other songs are stories referencing icons the Queen (“The Queen Is Dead”), Joan of Arc, (“The Boy With The Thorn In His Side”), and Antony and Cleopatra (“Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others”). “Big Mouth strikes Again” has Morrissey on an absurd chipmunk style backing vocal which somehow actual works in context. It would have been interesting to have included a version with Kirsty MacColl’s backing vocals that Marr had reportedly described as “too weird” especially since the demo of “Never Had No One Ever” differs with the addition of saxophone and Morrissey’s deliberate laughing which were rectified by the time of the heartfelt final version. The most immediately recognisable musical style would be that of the country rockabilly “Vicar In A Tutu”.
The Additional recordings disc contains an extended version of the title track and demos of the rest of the album except “Vicar In A Tutu” with the order varying due to “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” being a demo mix (?) and “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” being take 1. As would be expected with demos and early versions, the performances and mixes are marred in some way or another. The false stop and start on the demo of “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others” was replicated as a fade on the released version. Instrumental b side “Money Changes Everything” was later reworked with lyrics by Bryan Ferry to become his single “The Right Stuff”, one of several projects that Marr was involved in post the Smiths and prior to working himself up to become an eventual front man.
Although Morrissey’s lyrical preoccupation has changed little over time, Marr’s musical output has varied widely and it was probably a foregone conclusion that the Smiths would not have actually lasted much more than the five years that they had. Within a year the Smiths would posthumously release their final album and there would be no more original musical output (note the retrospectively prophetic “I know It’s Over”). Let’s hope that the underrated album Strangeways Here We Come will arrive in a similar edition, even in the context of Morrissey’s contempt for repackaging and reissues conveyed in that album’s track “Paint A Vulgar Picture”.