Hell hath no fury like the sound of the drums thundering The Smiths third record to an open. Perhaps the four piece’s finest showcase of their combined musicianship, ‘The Queen Is Dead’ was a defiant movement of rock versus the monarchy, Johnny Marr’s fiery wah-wah lines leading the procession for Mike Joyce’s angry drumming to follow. Grabbing the microphone, Morrissey’s vocals give a doctrine to the listeners, a muscular styling in place of effete marvelling. “The Queen is dead boys, and it’s so lonely on the limb” he bellows, smirk audibly placed, his most forceful vocal since ‘ How Soon Is Now?’. Little wonder it remains very much in Morrissey’s mainstay set-list thirty years later.
Bridging a gap between the song-writing brilliance of ‘Meat Is Murder’ and the tremendous sonic atmosphere courtesy of ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’, ‘The Queen’ found the four piece at the height of their live prowess, Marr a more versatile guitar player, Morrissey a stronger performer than heard previous. Orchestrated during their 1985 U.K. tour, Marr came up with guitar riffs and melodies during their sound-checks. Aided by Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke, the band’s arrangements would be the tightest ever heard.
Bluesy and literate, ‘The Queen’ would name check the band’s influences as far afield from Paul McCartney to Johnny Thunders, Billie Whitelaw to Oscar Wilde. Marr’s funk influences would come into play on ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’, his self-confessed love letter to Nile Rodgers, Morrissey’s endearing nuanced whisper would be played to strong effect on ‘I Know It’s Over’. ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ threw skiffle stylings with Byrd jangles into the foray, the duo placing their jubilant skills on each other, Andy Rourke’s bass bouncing between melody and guitar solo. One of the finest pop players of his generation, Rourke’s plays it over real life best friend’s Marr’s playing, their kindred sociability visible in their interactions.
Such a mélange would lead to certain unnecessary noodling or irrelevant compositions, ‘Frankly Mr. Shankly’ and ‘Vicar In A Tutu’ particularly guilty of this accusation. But when used appropriately, the band’s forlorn attitude would work excellently. Although a melodramatic title, ‘Never Had No One Ever’ proved one of the finest songs Morrissey ever penned, ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’ proof his dark wit had aged with the turn of the eighties. Co-producing the record with songwriting partner Morrissey, Marr looked to the production of sixties legend Phil Spector, layering the various instruments, seducing the listener more than it attacked. Marr’s vibrato would be better served by engineer Stephen Street’s technical know -how, echoing into and out of the songs when needed. Street would later prove himself a competent producer, as Morrissey’s excellent solo debut and Blur’s most successful albums would attest.
Street’s tenacity for effects and Marr’s ear for melody would be best served on ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, a song ridiculously passed as a single until its belated release in 1992. While Morrissey was resilient to the idea that a synthesiser be used on the record, the song’s synthesised string arrangement brings such feeling to the beautiful song, it is impossible to imagine the song without it. “If a double-decker bus, crashes into us/ to die by your side, the pleasure, the privilege is mine” echoes Morrissey over what may have been the finest song Morrissey and Marr ever wrote together.