Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Queen is Dead - The Smiths

The Smiths - yet another depressing band? Well that's arrant nonsense, I'm afraid. There is nothing depressing about The Smiths - this is (again) one of the most joyous (and funny) albums out there.

Morrissey and Marr both prefer Strangeways, but for me this album represents their peak, when they were still very much a band and the lyricism and music meshed and gelled perfectly.

Firstly the words. Morrissey seems completely at ease with himself on this album - utterly self-aware ("She said 'I know you and you cannot sing' I said 'That's nothing, you should hear me play piano'") and playful ("I didn't realise you wrote such bloody awful poetry"). But at the same time, still able to articulate the angst and wretchedness of adolescence better than just about anyone.

'I Know It's Over' is a classic 'depressing Smiths' song. Except it's not. It's a song for anyone who feels (or has ever felt) alone and unloved - Steven has felt that way as well, and he knows what you are going through. I defy anyone not to feel comforted, rather than depressed, after listening to this song.

If you're so funny
Then why are you on your own tonight ?
And if you're so clever
Then why are you on your own tonight ?
If you're so very entertaining
Then why are you on your own tonight ?
If you're so very good-looking
Why do you sleep alone tonight ?
I know ...
'Cause tonight is just like any other night
That's why you're on your own tonight

It's so easy to laugh, it's so easy to hate
It takes strength to be gentle and kind
It's so easy to laugh, it's so easy to hate
It takes guts to be gentle and kind

But Morrissey does requited, as well as unrequited love, too. Albeit with a degree of obsessiveness that goes beyond the strictly necessary. In the sublime 'There is a Light That Never Goes Out' Steven gets his man(?) and declares his undying love:

And if a double-decker bus
Crashes into 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

'Undying' possibly the wrong word, I suppose.

But the album is about more than Morrissey's lyrics, although I could quote them all day. It's about the music, and the musicianship of the band as well. Johnny Marr is undoubtedly the finest guitarist of his generation, understated and unshowy, but always appropriate. Listen to the guitar work on 'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others' - it's sublime. And if that wasn't enough, The Smiths had the finest rhythm section in the land as well. Listen to the drums at the beginning of 'The Queen is Dead' and the bass on 'I Know It's Over' and tell me I'm wrong.

The Queen is Dead. The finest album of the '80s, by the finest band of the '80s.

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