dinsdag 21 november 2017

The Queen Is Dead. The Smiths

Everyone with the faintest interest in modern music will have noticed it in one way or another: after 31 years the last studio album of The Smiths got the royal industry treatment of a re-release full of extras. I am going to go off the deep end here. As far as I'm concerned The Smiths were nothing but a bunch of wankers with a few noticeable songs like 'Big Mouth Strikes Again' and 'Panic', songs that were very danceable in the 80s parties I attended. But on an album and after the second song I had to turn it off, as I simply started to have a mental allergic reaction to the voice of Morrissey and the guitar jangles of Johnny Marr. I never returned to any of the albums since the 80s. One thing though, the covers of the band's 45s were always strikingly beautiful. Of course I hardly have any, for obvious reasons.

The, perhaps, strange, thing is that I started to appreciate Morrissey solo somewhere in the 00s with his album 'Ringleaders Of The Tormentors' and reviewed Johnny Marr's solo album 'The Messenger' favourably on this blog. So it's time to dive and listen to the, according to the critics, best album of The Smiths for the first time, perhaps ever even, as I had my fill from 'Hatful Of Hollows' and 'Meat Is Murder' by then. Here I go.

In fact 31 years after the release the new encounter with The Queen Is Dead is not half bad. If we strip away the intro to the title song, on dreaming about an England Morrissey and his lads never lived in, 'The Queen Is Dead' is a very pointed and direct song. I would call it a perfect opening. The drums and bass are fierce. The guitars solid and full. The tingle-tangle piano (sound) plays a few nice accent notes. Morrissey is playing with a voice morphing device. The tempo prevents him from being his miserable self. Definitely a boon. Mind this is the first song. The outro is fantastic. It just keeps pounding onwards, with changing lead instruments marching into infinity it seems.

'Frankly, Mr. Shankley' is about the owner of Rough Trade, The Smith's record label. Lyrically it is of no consequence for decades. The reggae rock sound makes it sound obsolete as well. We're into the 21st century that is breathing down Morrissey's neck for nearly two decades, so all he wishes for in 1986 seems to have been reached in 2017. "Give us money", it came down to that when all was sung and done. Rather worldly actually.

'I Know It's Over' is a ballad. With a "lover, lover, lover" part that may have influenced Jeff Buckley's singing in 'Lover, You Should've Come Over', I notice. The song shows The Smiths can reach a maximum effect with a minimum of instruments. The melody is simply very alright. That the song slowly flashes out and rocking some more helps to get through the nearly 6 minutes the song lasts. Yes, it's too long! The first part is impressive though. The Smiths shine at a bare minimum.

'Never Had No One Ever' is one of those titles that make me fear the worst. Morrissey at his worst, whining away about how sorry we have to feel for him. Johnny Marr's dark sounding guitar lead lines provides the right contrast, as do the bass of Andy Rourke and drums of Mike Joyce. They all provide a deeper end to the sadness and a sense of relief for me as listener.

'Cemetry Gates' has that fast played acoustic guitar that most of my favourite songs by The Smiths have. I'm remembered of Albert Hammond songs of the 70s like 'I'm A Train'. If so, the most unexpected of influences on this band. That guitar continues straight into the only single of the album, 'Bigmouth Strikes Again'. The song with that mysterious lyrics about Joan of Arc. There I was dancing to the fast rhythm wondering what it could all mean. From the time that it was easy to sing along to most of the lyrics. That great break allowed for some extra dancing as well. Great song, then, now, for ever probably. Just like 'Panic', not on this album.

'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side' is these days seen as the most important title on this set. To me it's one of these lamentable Morrissey songs. So let's skip it fast.

'Vicar In A Tutu' is a surprise. A song I most likely never got to hear in the past. I never got this far into the album. It's upbeat, up tempo and a bit preposterous. It is a song like this that makes me understand a little of the claim that The Smiths were the most important British band since The Beatles. It is the sort of weird song The Beatles had on its records that was truly surprising, strange and sort of fun. The image of the vicar is extremely funny in itself. The country style feel of the song underscores the fact that it's not necessary to take it seriously. A side that I had never discovered to The Smiths before.

'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' is a song that I used to hate. That typical whine, with Morrissey smooching his words all over the melody. I find myself discovering all these little details around the song, the additions to the three piece band, but also the firm bass that stands out prominently. Again I notice how important the acoustic guitar is on The Queen Is Dead. Nothing but surprises.

It all ends with 'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others'. Just like their (grand)mothers, yes. And in very different ways too, I might add. The strange fade in, out and in, brings a tight songs with the typical The Smiths' guitar jingle jangle. It's a bit of a toss away at the end of the album, with rather uninspired lyrics. Somehow I find myself liking it too.

Summing up, The Queen Is Dead surprised me and not a little, as you might have surmised from reading the above. There are sides to The Smiths I had never heard before. In fact, I discovered that the band may well have evolved into a truly good band and not remained the vehicle for the post-teen angst of Morrissey. Who without a doubt was posing to give himself  front. One to be able to stand out and one to hide behind, trying to find out where he really stood in this life. Had the band managed to continue.

The strangest thing of all? That I went into that stack of records I collected between the early seventies and circa 2000 and found three The Smiths records, including a second hand bought version of .... The Queen Is Dead. For the life of me, I can't remember buying it or ever having playing it. The not enjoying part, yes, definitely. Bob Dylan sang it around the year 2000: Things have changed.

A hideous cover though, Alain Delon or not.


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