Friday, March 7, 2014

A Crack in Everything: The Queen is Dead

It's A Crack in Everything, where good albums get scrutinised to within an inch of their lives! If you're not quite sure what's happening, go to the main A Crack in Everything page first.

Of the four studio albums that The Smiths released in their short time together, The Queen is Dead is actually the only one I've heard. Still, I have it on good authority that this is their masterpiece; the NME, for example, ranked TQiD as The Greatest Album of All Time last year, so I think I was putting my chips on the right square when I bought this one over, say, Meat is Murder.

Now, the first criticism I thought of for this blog concerned the silly songs like Frankly, Mr Shankly and Vicar in a Tutu, but actually, I'm not convinced that such a criticism would be valid. Just as Neutral Milk Hotel wouldn't be Neutral Milk Hotel without nasal singing and lo-fi production values, the willingness to mix misery with silliness is what made The Smiths so unique. Seemingly throwaway songs such as Vicar and Shankly are just as necessary as I Know It's Over; this stew wouldn't be nearly as tasty and as pleasant without those key ingredients.

(Besides, I have a theory that, without Vicar in a Tutu, Mansun's Attack of the Grey Lantern - one of my favourite albums ever, which features a cross-dressing vicar as a central character - might never have come to pass)

However, I'm not letting this album off the hook yet. The Boy with the Thorn in His Side is often held up as one of this album's highlights, and Morrissey has said that it's his single favourite Smiths song, but you know what? I'm not that keen. It's pretty, I suppose, but I feel very little compulsion to keep listening after a minute or so - I've got the gist of it by that point, and the remaining 135 seconds don't really add much. It's just the same thing over again, followed by a spot of yodelling practice for Morrissey while the band wrap things up. I mean, the likes of I Know It's Over and the title track are hardly prog rock, but they go places, y'know? It's worth listening to the whole track, and I just don't think that's true of TBwtTiHS.

The same could arguably be said of Some Girls are Bigger Than Others and Bigmouth Strikes Again, but while I do feel that those two fall short of the standard that TQiD sets for itself, they do have their saving graces. Some Girls is funny, at least, and I quite enjoy the coda: "Send me your pillow, the one that you dream on..."

As for Bigmouth, my favourite part of that song is the weird, high-pitched vocal that arrives towards the end, by which point Morrissey is just repeating the song's title over and over again. Apparently, Kirsty MacColl recorded some backing vocals for the track, but her take was eventually scrapped and replaced with Morrissey's pitch-shifted warbling.

Which probably says more about Morrissey than it does about Kirsty MacColl.

It's weird, because The Smiths were a real singles band, and yet the first two singles from this album are two of the album's worst songs. If you ask me, they should have released Cemetry Gates as a single instead; Morrissey's literary riffing is far more enjoyable than "Bigmouth, do-do-do-da-da..."

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