Essential New Music: The Smiths’ “The Queen Is Dead”

It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that Morrissey + Marr ranks right up there with Lennon/McCartney, the Glimmer Twins and the Everly Brothers on the scale of GOAT songwriting partnerships. The Queen Is Dead represents the very top of Smiths Mountain: a majestic cultural moment captured in album form, the point at which Marr’s gift for melody and a playing style at odds with Guitar Heroes Past (all gorgeous color, no solo wankery) met Morrissey’s perfectly poisonous Oscar Wilde-style humor at the crossroads of a decade fed up with conservative politics and old-guard prejudices.

At the remove of three decades, this album remains as fresh and unconventional as the day the songs were first committed to tape, with a few (“Cemetery Gates,” “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side,” “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”) rising to the level of work that gets you mooted to membership in some heavenly celestial body. There are legions of fans, bands and trends that can be traced directly back to this LP, and even if the surplus/demo material included here—b-side “Asleep” is the core of Andy Wood’s Mother Love Bone ballads, “Money Changes Everything” is the horizon line at which Japan and Dire Straits’ latter day careers weirdly merge—doesn’t yield a treasure-trove of insight, it’s still fascinating to hear a tune as cracking as “Bigmouth Strikes Again” in early form, nearly as fully formed as it would ultimately become.

The compulsory bonus live disc—captured at a prime Boston tour stop—merely confirms what those of us who caught them back then already know: The Smiths were as skillful in the wild as they were in the studio. This is the sound my teen years make when I try to distill them in my head: stormy and smart-assy and sad and stylish, all at once.

—Corey duBrowa