The 1980s brought humanity many great things. From developments in technology and economics to MTV and the Rubix cube. However, without a doubt the greatest gift that the 80’s bestowed upon the human race has to be, drum roll please… The Smiths. It’s about time someone wrote an article about the Mancunian Indie forefathers!
Despite having only a relatively short stint in the industry, releasing only 4 albums, the Smiths managed to make a lasting impression. Just walk into any university’s student union and you’ll be guaranteed to see at least one young hipster clad in a Meat is Murder t-shirt. But what is it about the Smiths that continues to draw in listeners, young and old, more than 25 years after their spilt? Is it Morrisey’s humorously bleak lyrics, capturing the grey life of northern England? Or could it be Johnny Marr’s enigmatic and highly complex guitar sound that took influential from Africa, England and American music genres? Perhaps a triangulation of both of these explanations will help us understand their undeniable excellence. Morrisey and Marr comes to the tongue as naturally as Laurel and Hardy or Lennon and McCartney.
Out of all the hugely important rock-bands and out of all their hugely important rock-albums, The Queen is Dead by The Smiths must rank amongst the most provocative and influential on that hypothetical list. Even the album’s title is feisty and political. Their 3rd and penultimate record focuses on the themes of death, loss, love and adolescence. Witty, acerbic lyrics accompanied by twangy, luscious guitar riffs plucked to perfection: would more do you need?
The band’s most popular song, “There is a Light that will never go out”, appears on this album. About a car ride, it is an ode to youthful rebelliousness, sung with a touching intimacy in Morrisey’s unique style. The music is romantic and often epic at times, with synthesised stings pulling at the synthesised heart strings. The sear multitude of layered guitars is powerful, much like Marr’s strumming of his acoustic guitar is. The tune “Cemetery Gates” has proved to be a popular song amongst people I’ve discussed the album with. Marr’s, jangly Gibson guitar flutters in the background, playing with Andy Rooke’s funky bass line: paralleling the feeling of a warm sunny day that Morrisey sings of. The song is about plagiarism and warns us that “there is always someone somewhere with a big nose that knows”: a frightful thought for anyone currently stealing quotes for an upcoming summative essay.
It’s about time someone wrote an article about the Mancunian Indie forefathers!
One of my favourite songs on the album comes from the A-side, generally a little weaker than the fantastic B-side. The song is the morose “I Know It’s Over”. A slow beat and lonely strummed acoustic guitar chords begin the song. Morrisey’s passion increasingly rises and the music crescendos and its dynamic thickens with each chorus. Marr introduces an unforgettable dreamy guitar motif into the mix during the chorus. It floats in the air of the song like an expensive perfume. If someone asked me to play them the quintessential Smiths song, I’d whack on “The Boy With The Throne In His Side”. Fast and twangy, the crème de la crème of jangle pop. The lightly distorted guitar that is prevalent in the outro gives me goose bumps every time.
The sarcasm in “Bigmouth Strikes Again” is strong when Morrisey sing’s “I was only joking when I said by rights you should be bludgeond in the head”. Referring to himself as a “bigmouth” is quite an apt title considering some of the controversial statements that have slipped out of the lovably arrogant singer’s mouth. The final song on the album, “Some Girls are Bigger Than Others”, is yet another memorable indie track. A hypnotic guitar line pulls us into the humorous lyrics about women’s breasts. Morrisey’s voice sung through a transistor radio sound effect in the intro has always been a highlight of the album for me. The track fades out and the album ends.
Stunning. Audiences and critics automatically took to this seminal album, revering it as decade defining. Bands such as Oasis and The Stone Roses took great influence from it. Contemporary indie artists like Wolf Alice and Arcade fire owe it a debt too. 30 years on, Morrisey’s lyrics are still witty and intelligent and Marr’s guitar still rings brightly as ever. The working-class boys from Manchester have forever cemented themselves into the history of British popular music. Good job lads!