ALBUM (1986)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 May, 2009, 12:00am

The Smiths

The Queen is Dead

(Rough Trade)

It's hard to choose the most influential album of this most influential of British bands. The Smiths' third studio album, however, stands out as the one that cemented not only their anti-establishment credentials, but also saw the foursome move from the twee indie sound that had marked their previous releases to one that was more robust, experimental and, er, meaty (apologies to militant vegetarian vocalist Morrissey).

It also saw Morrissey playing with words and literary allusions to a far greater extent, most notably his obsession with poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, whose patronage he evoked in the song Cemetery Gates, as a response to criticism of his use of literary references in earlier songs.

While the previous album, Meat is Murder, pulled no punches in getting its political points across, The Queen is Dead used humour to state its aims. The title track, for instance, a denigration of the privilege and deference enjoyed by the British ruling classes, sticks the knife in with a smile. 'So I broke into the palace with a sponge and a rusty spanner,' Morrissey sings, in a mocking pot-shot at the 1982 intrusion into Buckingham Palace by tramp Michael Fagan, who managed to bypass palace guards and burglar alarms to sneak into Queen Elizabeth's bedroom and spend 10 minutes chatting to her.

'She said I know you and you cannot sing,' he continues, with the parting jest, 'I said that's nothing you should hear me play piano.'

The album also includes classics such as The Boy with the Thorn in His Side, which has since been covered by bands such as Bis and Dinosaur Jr, and the late singer Jeff Buckley, as well as the hit single Bigmouth Strikes Again in which Morrissey again attacks critics, this time those who pilloried his often controversial statements, political and otherwise.

In the lyrics to the latter, 'as the flames rose to a Roman nose and her hearing aid started to melt' he compares himself to Joan of Arc, burning for sticking to her beliefs (and in the process has a go at those who derided his often odd fashion tics, which included wearing a hearing aid despite not being deaf).

Although The Queen is Dead is lauded mainly for its lyrical richness and wit, the album is made great by the mellifluous guitars of Johnny Marr, who beefed up his style for this album, particularly on the title track. He moves effortlessly from raucous psychedelia through to gentle ballads and waltz-like pastiche.

The Queen is Dead is a masterpiece of evocative lyricism harmoniously combined with a rich and complementary musical backing. Only one or two British bands, Radiohead included, have managed to replicate such a feat since.