The Queen Is Dead
Released: June 28, 1986
Peak: 70 US, 2 UK, 29 CN, 30 AU
Sales (in millions): 0.85 US, 0.3 UK, 1.25 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: altnerative/new wave
Song Title > [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
Lyrics by Morrissey. Music composed by Johnny Marr.
Total Running Time: 36:48
4.449 out of 5.00 (average of 26 ratings)
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
“The original kings of British mope rock could have earned that title on the basis of this album alone.” RS “The Smiths typify one of the classic oppositional dynamics that define many rock bands.” TM College-rock audiences in the eighties “often listen[ed] to The Smiths…to battle the depression of adolescence, and then subsequently dismiss[ed] the band later in life along with the painful memories of youth. But that does a great disservice to a group with complex arrangements and literate lyrics that inspired Radiohead on to greatness.” RV
“The poet born Steven Patrick Morrissey spills out his elegant melancholy” EW and offers “waspish observations on the British obsession with social propriety and its appetite for juicy scandal.” PR Morrissey’s “self-pitying monologues” PR are backed by the “much scruffier” TM “liquid lead guitar of janglemaster Johnny Marr.” EW “Marr and the rhythm section blaze trails toward an idealized zone of rock (and sometimes pop) sunshine. Their runaway exuberance magnifies and sometimes mocks Morrissey’s gloomy desperation” TM by “forming a happy counterpoint.” ZS The mix has been described as “absolute bliss meets a razor blade.” ZS
“Lots of acts have milked that contrast. But few have taken it to the delightful extremes that define the Smiths’ third album, The Queen Is Dead.” TM The album marked the group’s “great leap forward, taking the band to new musical and lyrical heights.” AMG They were “in the middle of one of the greatest creative rolls that any band or artist has EVER managed.” CAD
“The album’s genesis seems to have been kickstarted by…Marr.” CAD Morrissey kept falling out with the group’s managers so Marr was largely running the group. AD “In the preceding year or so the band had all individually drifted down to live in London and he felt that the music was suffering as a consequence…He moved back north to a place near Manchester and urged the others to follow suit which they eventually did, renting properties nearby. Throughout the summer of 1985 Morrissey and Marr really got to work, crafting early drafts of what were to become some of their finest ever songs.” CAD
“The storming title track” AMG is “full of quiet rage.” RS It is “a lyrical and musical tour-de-force which can be taken on (at least) three different levels. The first, and obvious one would be an attack on ‘her very Lowness’ herself and the Monarchy as a whole, in Morrissey’s opinion an outdated and irrelevant institution.” CAD “Secondly, we can take ‘The Queen’ of the title to mean Britain itself. He’s bemoaning the fact that the country is…no longer the place it used to be, broken, impoverished, a generation condemned to the dole queue by Thatcher and her “no such thing as society” mantra. Then again, the title could refer to Morrissey himself” CAD who once said it was autobiographical. CAD
Frankly Mr. Shankly is “strummy social commentary” RS with its “deliciously comic music hall stomp.” CAD The “acoustic guitar lend[s] a fine contrast to the preceding track. Lyrically it’s partly an attack on their record label (and its owner) at the time, Rough Trade.” CAD
“The lovely melancholy of I Know It’s Over” AMG makes for “a heartbreaking, beautiful lament, loaded with emotion and sung with epic passion.” CAD Reviewer Adrian Denning called it “Morrissey’s finest five minutes and forty nine seconds as a vocalist.” AD “Never Had No One Ever is more of the same in terms of feel. Not quite so inspired this time but it remains perfectly fine.” AD
Meanwhile, “the bouncy acoustic pop of Cemetry Gates” AMG makes for “a lovely, jaunty tune to close the side with a bit of humour thrown in.” CAD as Morrissey presents “the great poets as trading-card superheroes, …giving his friend John Keats and William Butler Yeats and keeping Oscar Wilde for himself.” TM
The second half includes “two utterly wonderful singles,” CAD with “the minor-key rush of Bigmouth Strikes Again” AMG and “the wistful The Boy With The Thorn in His Side.” AMG The former is a “rampaging Stones-style rockers about saying the wrong thing,” TM complete with the “curiously empathetic line, ‘Now I know how Joan of Arc felt as the flames rose to her Roman nose and her Walkman started to melt’).” TM While that “was largely Johnny’s show, it’s only appropriate that [‘Thorn’]…should be Morrissey’s time to shine. Both support each other.” AD
“The epic There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” AMG was finally released as a single six years later. It “could well be the ultimate Smiths song…Critic and author Simon Goddard has dubbed it ‘the national anthem of Smithdom.’” CAD It is “a joyous celebration of being hopelessly in love” CAD and yet “Morrissey typically manages to throw in some mordant humour amidst the euphoria” CAD with lines like “And if a double-decker bus, crashes into us / to die by your side, such a heavenly way to die / and if a ten ton truck, kills the both of us / to die by your side, the pleasure and the privilege is mine.”
Also on the second half: “the faux rockabilly of Vicar in a Tutu” AMG “is simple, stupid, happy.... and brilliant.” AD Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others “is perfect to close…The lyrics are funny and whilst your wiping away the tears from listening to ‘There Is a Light’ gives you another emotion entirely.” AD
Marr “created a dense web of guitars” AMG “and the rich musical bed provides Morrissey with the support for his finest set of lyrics” AMG and “some of his finest, most affecting songs.” AMG They “focus on heartbreak and isolation with just enough beauty to provide a ray of hope among the clouds of sadness.” RV Morrissey “delivers a devastating set of clever, witty satires of British social mores, intellectualism, class, and even himself.” AMG
“The Queen is Dead explores mortality, love and redemption like few bands. This album is among the best the ‘80s pop scene had to offer and a remarkable achievement of musical artistry.” RV It is “the best album by the band that defined the genre they sprang from, if Indie/Alternative is even a genre.” CAD “The Smiths’ success brought about a resurgence of guitar-led pop in Britain after a period dominated by synthesizers.” TB They “made it possible for future independent acts such as Oasis and The Stone Roses to break into the mainstream.” PR
On Queen, “The Smiths peak as both writers and performers.” AD This “is the album that best captures the droll humor and musical extravagances that made the Smiths so riveting.” TM It “defined their times and gave us one of the greatest songwriting partnerships there’s EVER been.” CAD “Forget Her Majesty — on The Queen Is Dead the Smiths simply slay us all.” EW
Notes: A 2017 collector’s edition added a second disc of demos and B-sides as well as a third disc of live songs.
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First posted 6/28/2012; last updated 12/3/2021.