Thursday, June 16, 2011

the queen is dead

The Smiths took us back to dear old blighty with their savage, solipsistic, sarcastic, sensual masterpiece. 'The Queen Is Dead' was produced by Morrissey and Marr and engineered by Stephen Street. Street recalls that "Morrissey, Johnny and I had a really good working relationship — we were all roughly the same age and into the same kind of things, so everyone felt quite relaxed in the studio." Johnny Marr's subtle supple shimmering guitar work runs the gamut from flamenco to metal to rockabilly and provides a mesmerizing foundation to Morrissey's razor sharp wit as he takes on the church; the crown; nationalism; celibacy; stardom; insecurities; the soil falling over our collective heads; and a very bad dream that lasted twenty years, seven months, and twenty seven days. He packs in references to his favorite movies, songs, and poets in every song.

In the wake of the recording sessions, the band was in crisis. Andy Rourke was kicked out of the band over his heroin use and replaced with Craig Gannon who shifted over to help out on guitar when Rourke returned a couple of weeks later. The band was touring and recording constantly and it took a toll on Marr: "'Worse for wear' wasn't the half of it: I was extremely ill. By the time the tour actually finished it was all getting a little bit... dangerous. I was just drinking more than I could handle." He drove his BMW into a wall one rainy night in 1986. "I wore a neck brace - Morrissey was very envious."

The release of 'The Queen Is Dead' was delayed for seven months due to a legal dispute with their label. The brooding lead singer confessed at the time: "I'm not happy, I'm not...almost every aspect of human life really quite seriously depresses me... I do feel that all those tags, the depressive, the monotony, all tags I've dodged or denied are probably absolutely accurate. When you put me next to Five Star and judge the whole thing against the bouncingly moronic attitude that is so useful if one wants a job in the music industry, then yes I am a depressive. If I wasn't doing this I don't honestly believe that I would want to live. And one hesitates about making such statements because however one makes them it never seems useful."

'The Queen Is Dead'  reached number two on the British album chart. The album cover features a portrait of Alain Delon from the film 'L'Insoumis' and was designed by Morrissey.

David Alice believes that the death of Princess Diana was foretold in the lyrics to the entire album and has put together some "compelling correlations" at:

The blistering anthemic title track rocks harden than anything they ever did and slathers on the metaphors with scenes from the class struggle, loneliness out on the limb of a withering royal line, and shameful registered historical facts. Johnny Marr says "'The Queen Is Dead' was a matter of unfinished business, since I'd first tried writing the riff and chords as a teenage in my bedroom." The lyrics make mocking reference to the lax security at Buckingham Palace and an incident where Michael Fagin was able to wander into the bedroom of Queen Elizabeth. The song begins with a soundbite from 'The L-Shaped Room' where Cicely Courtneidge sings an old World War I song about going back to Britain, which plays into the ambiguity over whether going home is a good thing with all of the drugs, nationalism, and celibacy. Derek Jarman directed the expressionistic video. Morrissey explains "I didn't want to attack the monarchy in a sort of beer monster way; but I find as time goes by this happiness we had slowly slips away and is replaced by something that is wholly grey and wholly saddening. The very idea of the monarchy and the Queen of England is being reinforced and made to seem more useful than it really is."

"We can go for a walk where it's quiet and dry
and talk about precious things
but when you are tied to your mother's apron
no one talks about castration"

The character in 'Frankly, Mr. Shankly' was inspired by the bad relations the band had with Geoff Travis of Rough Trade Records, paying their way and corroding their souls.

"Fame, fame, fatal fame
it can play hideous tricks on the brain
but still I rather be famous
than righteous or holy, any day, any day, any day"

The giddy plagiaristic misery of 'Cemetry Gates' recalls a visit to Southern Cemetery in Manchester and references 'The Man Who Came To Dinner', Shakespeare's 'Richard III', Keats and Yeats, and of course Oscar Wilde.

"So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
all those people all those lives
where are they now?
with the loves and hates
and passions just like mine
they were born
and then they lived and then they died
seems so unfair
and I want to cry"

'Bigmouth Strikes Again' is about how Morrissey's mouth has gotten him in trouble. The background vocals are actually Morrissey's voice sped up; Ann Coates is a pun on the Ancoats district in Manchester.

"And now I know how Joan of Arc felt
Now I know of Joan of Arc felt
As the flames rose to her Roman nose
And her hearing aid started to melt"

The wistful sincerity of 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side' encapsulates the antagonism between critic and artist. Morrissey's melodramatic sensationalism had been dismissed as a put on.

"Behind the hatred there lies
A plundering desire for love
How can they see the Love in our eyes
And still they don't believe us ?
And after all this time
They don't want to believe us
And if they don't believe us now
Will they ever believe us ?
And when you want to Live
How do you start ?
Where do you go ?
Who do you need to know ?"

The rapturous romantic restless resignation of 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' makes for the ultimate breakup song.

"And if a double-decker bus
crashes in to us
to die by your side
is such a heavenly way to die
and if a ten ton truck
kills the both of us
to die by your side
well the pleasure, the privilege is mine"

'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others' began as a demo tape that Marr left in Morrissey's mailbox for lyrics to be added. It describes an adolescent observance of developing bodies and makes reference to Johnny Tillotson's 'Send Me the Pillow You Dream On' and the British comedy 'Carry On Cleo'. This video is from their final concert at Brixton Academy, London, on the twelfth of December 1986.

"On the shopfloor
There's a calendar
As obvious as snow...
(As if we didn't know)"

 'The Queen Is Dead' 
full album:

All tracks written by Morrissey and Johnny Marr, except "Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty" (used as an intro to "The Queen Is Dead"), written by A.J. Mills, Fred Godfrey and Bennett Scott.

1. "The Queen Is Dead" 6:24
2. "Frankly, Mr. Shankly" 2:17
3. "I Know It's Over" 5:48
4. "Never Had No One Ever" 3:36
5. "Cemetry Gates" 2:39
6. "Bigmouth Strikes Again" 3:12
7. "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side" 3:15
8. "Vicar in a Tutu" 2:21
9. "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" 4:02
10. "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others" 3:14

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