Wednesday, October 31, 2007

No. 216: The Queen Is Dead

Band: The Smiths
Album: The Queen Is Dead
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Save for the Cure, no band is identified with mopey '80s British rock than the Smiths. Morrissey's clever lyrics and Johnny Marr's reverb-soaked guitars make for some interesting songs oozing with social and romantic commentary.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I can't stand the Smiths. Finding the comfort in being sad (to quote Cobain) is a one-trick pony for these guys, though I admire their political songs.
Best song: "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" isn't terrible, though the version by Braid is better.
Worst song: "Vicar in a Tutu" is just odd.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

I kind of expected to hate this album a lot more than I do; I've always made fun of the Smiths because of Morrissey's ridiculous whiny voice. I guess I haven't really immersed myself in The Smiths enough to make so much fun of them.

Which is to say that I've changed my mind a bit on the Smiths. I don't hate them at all. The songs have some redeeming value and, to be honest, remind me of British cousins to early R.E.M. (and I love R.E.M.). The big differences between the two bands are mainly the vocals and the gitar effects. Marr's guitar is drenched in reverb to the point where it sounds like it is underwater whereas Peter Buck's guitar is a clear cop from the Byrds. I prefer Buck.

I should love Morrissey in theory. Like Stipe, he's sexually ambiguous. Unlike Stipe -- though, like a lot of singers I enjoy -- he writes about his passions (including vegetarianism and the plight of the working class). Also, he's a misanthrope, like me.

I guess there's also the defining British-ness of the album, topped by the opening track and album title. As much as I wish I was Canadian, I'm quite American; I grew up in the Midwest, for Christ's sake. And the accent rubs me weird in the way Bloc Party records never resonate with me as much as they should. "Frankly Mr. Shankly" exemplifies this; Morrissey sounds so decidedly British.

So... I guess I'll have to spend more time with this record before I can say I hate it. Like Zeppelin, I find the record interesting, if worthy of having a better singer.


This is all forgetting that the Smiths are hugely important. The emo thing takes tons from them, specifically in the group of Chicago emo bands like The Smoking Popes and Braid (crooning vocals, anyone?). Certainly, Britpop's five minutes of fame over here -- remember, Britpop is still popular in the U.K. -- is a direct descendant of The Smiths and The Cure.

So, it's important. I just don't love it.

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