Join Date: Nov 2007
Re: This top 100 band list is BOGUS - RUSH lower than STP?
Things are not always as they seem. When the Smiths appeared on Whistle Test a few weeks ago to promote the 'Big Mouth Strikes again' single, even their most committed fan would have been forgiven for thinking that their most eminent jangling jewels were finally beginning to lapse into self-parody.
There on the screen was the Prince Of Pain, the finest furrowed pate in pop, replete in the same old denims and that bloody awful hearing aid, bleating on about how he felt like Joan Of Arc and had no right to take his place in the human race.
Behind him, meanwhile, a four-piece band were coming on like the new Rolling Stones, all rounded rock maturity and polished ****sure authority. With a crucial third LP on the horizon, it was as if the skin of their beat had finally fully ripened; as if they had defined and perfected their musical pith and lost their hunger, their need to grow.
But things are not always as they seem. If 'The Queen Is Dead' arrives in a climate of such doubt, with the above suspicions compounded by stories of "personal difference" within the group and problems with their record label without, it is pleasing to report that it is as exciting and direct a pop or record as we are likely to hear this year-a challenging and often extreme piece of work.
While their last LP left off with the torpid 'Barbarism Begins At Home' and the meandering whine of 'Meat Is Murder', 'The Queen Is Dead' goes straight for the jugular. In becoming what is basically a beat group again, The Smiths have rediscovered much of the muscular tautness of their earliest session recordings, the cuts immortalised on the 'Hatful of Hollow' complication.
The title track, prefaced with a few bars of Cicely Court neidge's "take me back to dear old Blighty", positively erupts into a quasi-rock anthem that Simple Minds or U2 would probably be proud of. 'The Queen is Dead' opens the LP with crashing records, rattling tom tom drums and a baseline that pumps like a car jack and cranks like a spanner, Morrissey's singing scanning brilliantly to counterpoint the beat. Smiths detractors often belittle the man's larynx, forever cringing at his whingeing. What they conveniently overlook is the great sense of timing and phrasing he brings to his dramatic vocal delivery, his sense of the rhythmic beast behind him never the less than acute.
'The Queen Is Dead' is, of course, at least partly allegorical, referring as much to Morrissey's nostalgic yearning for a certain lost Englishness as to the redundancy of the monarchy. The miserable undertow to the Morrissey muse is also introduced in the nagging refrain "life is very long when your lonely", as is the sense of humour which provides an often black and farcical antidote throughout the album: "And so I broke into the palace/With a sponge and a rusty spanner/She said:' I know you and you cannot sing', I said: 'that's nothing, you should hear me play the piano'."
The wit surfaces again on 'Frankly, Mr Shankly', Morrissey's "fame, fame, fatal fame" song. Couched as a letter or speech of resignation from a mundane job, its humour is as musical as lyrical, the "worker Smiths" Rourke and Joyce etching out a deliberately hammy helping of cod shank ("reggae is vile", anyone?), with an ironic nod to northen working club cabaret. If anything, the track would perhaps have benefited froma an even more exaggerated music hall treatment.
But that is not to fault an unsung rhythm section who maintains an adroit peak of sustained excellence. For all the tales of dissent in the camp, they remain a fine bedrock vehicle for Morrissey's lyrical fancies and Mars flowery colourings.
Any fears that The Smiths considered return to insidiously catchy, unashamedly beat roots is being made at the expense of their more melancholic, lilting moods are dispelled on the haunting 'I Know It's Over'. Six minutes that stand comparison with the likes of 'Back To The Old House' and 'This Night Has Opened My Eyes', the song is a languid lament that shows The Smiths' more poetic leanings intact and far from crushed by their new beatbound power.
On an LP of only isolated lowpoints, the nadir of the first side- and indeed the whole album-is the virtually impenetrable 'Never Had No One Ever' in which the salty dog seems to think he is 'Sergeant Pepper' or at least an out-take of the same. A slow, brooding melodrama with psychedelic undertones, it is a poor man's 'How Soon Is Now' minus the latter's lyrical charm and alluring Bo Diddley-esque backbeat.
The following track, in contrast, lies on consecrated ground. 'Cemetry (sic) Gates' is set in a graveyard, but its true target is the crime of plagiarism, a tactic just occasionally employed by the songwriter himself ("talent borrows, genius steals" is teasingly etched on the run-off groove of the 'Bigmouth' single). And in keeping with the tone of musical irony set earlier on 'Frankly, Mr Shankly', the deft breeziness of the instrumentation - acoustic guitars double and treble tracked in a jaunty cascade - wittily belies the grave subject matter. With the exception of 'Meat Is Murder' - recorded and mixed, anyway, in 1984 - last year was hardly a vintage one for The Smiths. Most worrying was a discernible fall from grace concerning their position as the nation's most natural and consistent singles band.
The groups first four singles - 'Hand In Glove', 'This Charming Man', 'What Difference Does It Make' and 'Heaven Knows' - formed a staccato quartet of practically unimpeachable greatness. For an opening salvo, perhaps only the first four Sex Pistols singles - the only Sex Pistols singles- come close in terms of their classic worth. But any comparison between that Initial run of Smiths-on-45 with their four most recent efforts - 'That Joke Isn't Funny', 'Shakespeare's Sister', 'Boy With The Thorn In His Side' and the current 'Bigmouth' - illustrates just how sharply the standards have fallen. Morrissey made his reputation as one of the most concise contemporary pop songwriters largely on his skill in the singles arena, a knack which he seems, at least temporarily to have lost. The inclusion, therefore, of the band's last two singles on this LP is not really the inducement to buy that the sticker on the sleeve suggests: 'Bigmouth' finds Morrissey at his most testingly wry, but is really little more than Smiths by numbers 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side' (Ben Watt perhaps?) details a familiar search for love in a looking glass world, but is a non-song by Smiths standards.
Better looking by far - in its music, its message and its humour - is the racy 'Vicar In A Tutu', a song that would have made a great single. A fanciful tale of transvestism in the clergy that could have been culled from a Carry On film, it reverberates with some super quick fire couplets: "As Rose collects the money in a cannister/Who comes sliding down the banister?/The vicar in a tutu/He's not strange/He just wants to live his life this way."
The music is splendidly souped-up rockabilly, guitar man Marr finally rubber-stamping his metamorphosis from That Chiming Man to The Boy With The Twang In His Strang. It sometimes seems as if he is delving further back into his rock'n'roll roots with each successive LP. If last year's 'Rusholme Ruffians' contained one unashamed reference to a vintage Elvis hit with a guitar riff lifted straight from 'His Last Flame', then 'Vicar In A Tutu' contains another, with the rhythm and tempo of the track harking back to the manic skiffabilly of 'That's Alright Mama'
And if 'Tutu' steals from the Sun Sessions, the subsequent 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' hijacks a treasured Motown memory, that of Marvin Gaye's 'Hitch Hike' ("talent borrows, genius raids juke-boxes!")
Again, however, Marr's homage to rock history is executed with such fluent aplomb that the 'musical quotation' dovetails delightfully with the tenor of the song. The only odd thing is that Marr's musical obsessions should lie so obviously in rootsy American pop while his singer's cultural ones are so blatantly and quaintly English. When the two gel, however, they complement brilliantly, and 'There Is A Light' is another pearl, flute-like flutterings of Marr's string arrangement providing the perfect curtain for Morrissey's latest paean to blessed celibacy.
As an album with humour never far from its surface, it is fitting that 'The Queen Is Dead' should conclude with the clipped, undulated frivolity of 'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others', a hypnotic musical travelogue that verges on the transcendental: 'Some girls are bigger than others/some girls' mothers are bigger than other girl's mothers." Again, the Morrissey muse and Marr's musical setting collide marvellously, the track illuminated by some lovely slide guitar from the latter. It would have made another classic Smiths single.
So 'The Queen Is Dead' is an excellent record, let down only by one spot of neo-psychedelic posturing and a couple of mediocre singles. Sure, the age-old concerns are well to the fore, but they have never been so powerfully or eloquently expressed. The man-child remains self-obsessed and often wilfully miserable, but also self-deprecating and often very funny. The band's loyal legions will love 'The Queen Is Dead', but even the doubters should find something in the uncanny catchiness of seven of these ten tracks - a good ratio by any one's standards these days.
Maybe the next LP, or perhaps even the forthcoming 'Panic' single, should be the quantum shift in musical emphasis that some expected from this set. But, for now, Britain's best band are sticking very agreeably to what they do best, simply being The Smiths.
As Antony said to Cleopatra as he opened a crate of ale, some albums are better than others.
And yes, all of these reviews gave the album top marks.
Last edited by thesmiths; 11-09-2007 at 03:21 PM..