Classic Album Of The Week: The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead

Music

A good band usually has one of two things: great music or great lyrics. The Smiths are
blessed with both. The Queen is Dead is one of the great albums of the 80s, as well as one
of the albums which defined indie music, and this perfect balance of music and lyrics is one
of things which makes it so important. ‘Cemetery Gates’ is exemplary, with its delightfully
lilting rhythm jogging alongside Morrissey’s drawling ‘A dreaded sunny day, so I’ll meet you
at the cemetery gates’. The lyrics nod to literary greats – ‘Keats and Yeats are on your side,
while Wilde is on mine’, potentially pretentious but in actuality nothing short of Morrissey’s
song-writing at its best. ‘Cemetary Gates’ follows two great odes to loneliness, ‘I Know It’s
Over’ and ‘Never Had No One Ever’. The former is the quintessential break-up music, with
cascading waves of melancholy melody and self-depreciating, self-pitying lyrics; is there
anything more tragic than ‘I know it’s over, and it never really began’?

You might say, what a hideous juxtaposition between the tragic and the light-hearted!
How can one follow the other! But this of course is the real skill of the album, this seamless
transition between songs to cry to and songs that make you laugh. While ‘Cemetary Gates’ is
light-hearted in its knowingness and clever lyrics, ‘Frankly, Mr. Shankly’ and ‘Vicar In A
Tutu’ border on the absurd, the latter including the ridiculous refrain: ‘Vicar in a tutu, he’s
not strange, he just wants to live his life this way.’ Even in these apparently very frivolous
tracks, we hear glimpses of larger and yet more ridiculous narratives, avenues down which
our mind would like to wander, as in ‘And now I know how Joan of Arc felt, as the flames
rose to her roman nose, and her Walkman started to melt’ in ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’.

The album veers wildly from clever to absurd to tragic and the penultimate track is
perhaps embodies all three. ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ is beautiful and
ridiculous all at once, stripping down the cleverness of the lyrics to a raw, emotional love
song, and then building it back up again. The sheer human emotion of ‘Take me out tonight,
take me anywhere I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care’ abruptly metamorphoses into
Morrissey’s absurd ultimate declaration of love: ‘And if a double-decker bus crashes into us,
to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.’ However ridiculous this sounds, though,
you can’t help recognising that these are the things we all think, these ridiculous, passionate
ideas that come unbidden into our minds, and to which the rational self reacts with a mocking
laugh. Morrissey pinpoints exactly the stupid passion of what it is to be human and to be in
love.