Jul 012011

In the June 3 edition of The Independent, an article penned by Andy Gill and entitled “Days of Whine and Roses” opens, “Over the next fortnight, fortysomethings of a certain persuasion will be heard sighing into their lattes, lost in fond reminiscence of the sweet pain of adolescence. Because 25 years ago this month saw the release of The Queen is Dead…”

Gill, another sigh-inducing musician of us latte drinkers, goes on to state, “And if you were a teenager in 1986, no other record reflected the febrile mixture of loneliness, contempt, self-pity, petulance, sexual confusion, juvenile intellectual superiority and general emotional turmoil that characterises most adolescents’ experience of life.”

Further discussion of Morrisey‘s “sardonic stage laughter,” the “self-assured” rhythm section, and Marr‘s “array of African-tinged arpeggios, biting riffs and subtly wielded feedback” is included for the reader’s enjoyment. Finally, the article ends with several British music press heavyweights’ choices of their favorite song from the album.

Isn’t it time that we, the cogniscenti of RTH also review this important album? If REM’s I.R.S output and a critical upgrade of Husker Du elicited recent posts, shouldn’t we weigh in? Of particular importance is the concept of “cleverness,” recently eschewed by Mr. Moderator.


  41 Responses to “Bigmouth Strikes Again: Andy Gill’s Remembrance of The Queen Is Dead

  1. I was no longer a teenager by 1986. I was self-confident, happy, relatively mature, comfortable in my own skin, and not prone to excessive bouts of self-examination. Therefore I found the Smiths and particularly Morrissey to be mostly prolix, precious, and insufferable. Clever isn’t always good, you know. Other than “How Soon is Now” which is filled with good Marr riffs and has that hypnotic tremelo backing, the Smiths do nothing for me.

  2. ladymisskirroyale

    I’m not a huge Smith’s fan, more of a Smith’s singles fan. But I do think Morrisey’s lyrics can be funny in an arch way, and I like the mismatch of Morrisey’s Eeyore voice and Marr’s crystalline guitar.

    I saw this article in The Independent and what made the biggest impression on me was to see that it was written by Andy Gill.

    Maybe the Smiths had a bigger impact on the British rather than the Americans, and made it acceptable to include moping in rock music. Mr. Royale later suggested that I entitle this post “Whinge Bag Strikes Again.”

  3. BigSteve

    I think the Andy Gill who’s a music writer is a different person from the guitar player.

  4. It took until 1991 and the advent of grunge to make musical moping widely acceptable in America.

  5. ladymisskirroyale

    Oh geez, I’m guessing you are right. I just googled him and he is the Independent’s music critic.

  6. misterioso

    I am hoping, in light of this, that you also actually have another band called The Smiths in mind. If, on the other hand, it is the preternaturally uninspiring band I remember, put me on team tonyola.

  7. Yes, I think that’s the case. It took me until 2007 or so to figure out there are two Andy Gills.

  8. I hope to find time to dig back in the old Yahoo Groups archives and see if I can’t find a long post after a day or two listening to The Smiths – a band I despise and find really disheartening, in terms of humanity liking them to any degree – and Morrissey solo records, which surprisingly weren’t bad at all. No offense to any Smiths fans, but man…to me, thinking of a human enjoying their music is akin to imagining a person gets off on golden showers. (No offense, it goes without saying, to those who are into golden showers.)

  9. FOUND IT! This is not an attempt to hijack your thread, ladymiss, but to save myself the hardship of trying to listen to The Smiths again and probably type out much the same stuff:) I forgot how much listening to this band made me think about REM. Man, I’m really a sick pup when it comes to some things.

    Message 13376
    May 17, 2004

    See, I realized it was time for this a few weeks ago while out to
    lunch with some coworkers. This one woman, who is about as “cool” as I can expect out of my officemates, realized that a Smiths album was playing in the background. She knows I’m into music, and she said “Don’t you just love The Smiths?” She knows me well enough to have realized that it may have the wrong question despite my best attempts to pretend that I didn’t really hear her while pretending to be engaged in a discussion about Trump’s reality show. The Smiths CD kept playing, and when that song with the chugging, echoed guitar riff got underway, I was fighting a bad attitude. The kind of attitude that calls for a little clearing of the mind and fresh perspective on a band.

    I was able to download the following Smiths/Morrisey songs, many of which you so kindly suggested: “Girl Afraid”, “How Soon Is Now”, “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”, “William, It Was Really Nothing”, and “The More You Ignore Me”. I’m not sure if the Smiths songs I found are all from the same album, but they all sound like they were produced for the same album. The solo (I believe) Morrisey song, “The More You Ignore Me”, sounds much different, and to me, it sounds more like how I’d rather the band’s stuff sounded. Check it out.

    “Girl Afraid”: For a short song, this has a pretty long intro. I was
    starting to think that someone played a good joke on me and suggested an instrumental, leaving out a key element that I always found most troubling about the Smiths. Once Morrissey comes in an moans over that fairly cool guitar part, the song sounds a bit like an ’80s version of some second-rate, British Invasion-lite band. It’s OK, but beside the guitar part, I can’t put my finger on the pulse of the song. This is a problem I remember having with Smiths songs years ago. Morrisey sounds like he’s just making stuff up over some British version of an early REM backing track. Perhaps if he has take more time to turn his ideas into a coherent song I’d be better able to dig it. Not bad, but I’d rather get into Orange Juice or some band like that.

    “How Soon Is Now”: Ah, THIS is the one song I always identify with The Smiths. Johnny Marr got a nice little effect cranked up, didn’t he? Then what? What’s Morrisey going on about? What am I supposed to feel for over 6:30 minutes of vague attempts at fitting a crooning pop melody over that guitar effect? I keep thinking I’d rather hear Peter Murphy from Bauhaus do his little Dracula Rock thing over that backing track. Or give the music to Ian McCulloch or Julian Cope. They could have figured out something to do with it. Hell, Bono would give it a go. File under: Does Not Compute.

    “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”: This gets back to their
    wimpy British Invasion side. This makes a lot more sense to me. I can focus on something. Perhaps I’d still be better off revisiting Orange Juice or Haircut 100, but had I really needed to listen to this song in the presence of a cute girl I’d longed after in 1985, chances are I could have kept my mouth shut and nodded along in approval.

    “William, It Was Really Nothing”: The good thing about a skipping, vaguely disco beat is that the band can do almost anything over it without anyone batting an eye. This song is a good example of what I’m talking about. What the hell did the demo sound like for this song? Most likely, the band jammed on some instrumental ideas, and Morrisey made up something similar to a song over top. I imagine this is how a lot of REM songs get written. I imagine the young 10,000 Maniacs listening to this song repeatedly. Perhaps this is a case where the lyrics are giving eyesight to the blind and whatnot.

    “The More You Ignore Me”: This song is nearly fantastic, especially compared with the other songs I’d heard. Who had the good sense to turn down the digital reverb? Who had the good sense to play a real, ’70s guitar part? Who had the good sense to get Morrisey to flesh out his off-the-cuff ideas and write a full song? Is this solo Moz, or whatever fans call him? How can anyone like those Smiths songs better than this? I’m tempted to say such people don’t really like music. You know I say this stuff in half jest, but think about the other half.

    Seriously, thanks for some worthy suggestions. I believe the 2 songs I really didn’t like at all were songs I decided to try without your recommendations.

    [And then this follow-up post]

    Oh, and then there’s “Sweet and Tender Hooligan”: Nice to hear the rocking beat, but good god, what’s with all the reverb?! This is another one of those songs where I can’t hear the vocals and music as really being *necessary* existing together. Does anyone else get that impression from The Smiths, that Morrisey could have sung his songs over any number of their backing tracks, or likewise, that the band could have played one of a handful of backing tracks over any Morrisey lyrics/vocals? Is it just the reverb? This all makes me
    realize why the AMAZING early recordings of REM usually leave me unimpressed. Did Morrisey and Stipe scrawl away independently of the music tracks being developed? That how these types of songs sound to my ears.

  10. ladymisskirroyale

    Oh thank goodness. I feel like a right idjit.

  11. ladymisskirroyale

    The Pitchfork 500 Guide to the Greatest Songs From Punk to the Present (circa 2008) includes the following Smiths songs:

    This Charming Man
    How Soon Is Now
    There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (from The Queen is Dead)

    Re. There Is A Light: “An obvious lead single…it was reportedly vetoed because Johnny Marr felt other choices better showed off his guitar playing. He had a point: “There Is A Light” is Morrissey’s, a death-wish road song that shows the singer at both his most preposterous and most seductive.”

    Is this a band that appeals to women more than men?

    Mod, golden showers aside, maybe some of your discomfort comes from seeing too many stylistic similarities in Morrissey’s and M. Stipe’s dancing moves?

  12. BigSteve

    Don’t. It’s not obvious at all. I’ve always thought his byline should read ‘by Andy Gill (not the other one).’ Except that probably many of the people who read him don’t know who the other one is.

  13. BigSteve

    I’m afraid the battlelines on the Smiths are drawn pretty starkly. It’s a band that inspires love (me) or confused revulsion (the majority of Townspersons).

    After today’s REM discussion and the Mod’s resurrection of his old review of the Smiths’ oeuvre, I’ve come up with the theory that his problem with both bands is that he hates guitar arpeggios.

  14. ladymisskirroyale

    Nice observation. But what about the more African-style arpeggios? That would rule out The Talking Heads.

  15. BigSteve

    Don’t get Mod started about Talking Heads.

  16. I’m not a big arpeggio guy, that’s for sure. They make me think of that picture of Larry Coryell playing the Ovation Roundback. As ladymiss speculates, I do LIKE the African-style approach to this guitar technique.

  17. and then there’s the two bill wymans.


  18. dbuskirk

    My old girlfriend dated “the other” Bill Wyman. She was too old for the real one.

  19. I’ll take a pew in the House of Tonyola, please. ’86 was my SR year but I’ve used this same defense for years now. Mahalo.

    Ironically this last month I’ve had to listen to mucho Smiths and slowly discovered a song or three I like (“London”, for one). But I’ll continue to stand by my two assessments of The Smiths: A) “Morrisey’s a whining English wussy.” – Butt-Head, and 2d, Johnny Marr’s friggin’ hardcore

  20. bostonhistorian

    I love Hatful of Hollow, but not much else. I was, and remain, a Wedding Present fan. The Smiths were even more self-pitying than David Gedge, and that’s saying something.

  21. 2000 Man

    I’m not confused about The Smiths. I think they just suck.

  22. ladymisskirroyale

    Maybe Marrs’ comment about being Mancunian Irish explain the self-pitying part. Manchester was a pretty dreadful place in the 80’s.


  23. I’ve never been to England let alone Manchester, but isn’t Buzzcocks the first punk band out of that area? They’re cheerfully downbeat, but they’re not gloomy at all, even during the long fadeout of “I Believe,” when Shelley is yelling about whatever bleak thing it is he’s yelling about. I know the town became known for mopey bands in the ’80s, but was life that bad, or were a couple of bands led by members just wired that way and then others followed their established style? Gram Parsons was from a privileged background/town, and he was a wreck. I guess I get tired of the rock press attributing unbearably bleak attributes to certain towns. Plenty of “happy” artists come from shitty backgrounds, and plenty of mopey ones come from nice ones.

  24. ladymisskirroyale

    Um, interesting that you shared that you would rather listen to my beloved Orange Juice, but when I played them in the RTH World Cup last year, they were pretty much trounced.

  25. Well, head to head with The Smiths they would have kicked ass! They really weren’t bad, and isn’t Edwyn Collins the guy from that band? His solo records are also appealing despite that certain kind of whiny voice he sings in.

  26. ladymisskirroyale

    So you don’t go with “place begets a sound” theories?

    Maybe in that Thatcher era, if you a were a musician from a depressed, dreary town like Manchester (thank goodness the raves came a long and lightened things up a bit) you could internalize or externalize your feelings. The Buzzcocks expressed their anger and frustration in one way, but then there was Joy Division as the flip side of the Mancunian coin.

  27. bostonhistorian

    You’ve read Rip It Up And Start Again, yes? It does a really good job, I think, of tying music to location. I recommend the book to all RTHers

  28. Usually not, or not to the extent that many people do. I’m sure it plays a role, but I think the success of the mopey bands begot a sound as much as anything. I should note that I’m about the world’s most naive person when it comes to political and economic forces in the world. I believe life in developed countries is loaded with ups and downs but that it all evens out. It’s rare that a bad economic stretch actually affects my daily outlook on life. Whether I voted for a politician or not rarely makes me feel much better or worse about the future, so all the talk of artistic reactions to Thatcher and Reagan go over my head. If Ghandi had been Prime Minister I think Ian Curtis would have been just as depressed, and George Michael would have been just as peppy if Hitler had been in power.

  29. I don’t disagree per se, but this reminds me of the Pulp-related doc I watched recently, The Beat is the Law. It covers, among other things the miners’ strikes in Sheffield in the mid-’80, and its effect on musicians from the era. Seeing one of the main economic engines of the town dry up, and its adverse effect on communities, families etc. seemed to have a twofold effect on local artists. On one hand, there was a sense of futility (Richard Hawley says something like “If my parents couldn’t make it, what chance do I have?) but also a real independence, the idea of “well, we have to do this ourselves” that led to people starting up venues, gallery spaces, recording studios, bands, etc.

  30. And two Robert Palmers

  31. Before this shoulda-been Last Man Standing dries up, how about two Ed Kings?

  32. There are also rock critics named Paul Williams and Steve Perry.

  33. BigSteve

    And I just started reading It Came From Memphis by Robert Gordon (not the singer).



  34. Probably my favorite rock book.

  35. I was never blown away by The Smiths — does anyone like Johnny Marr + The Healers Boomslang? It’s kind of a cool headphones album — the live clips don’t do it justice.

  36. ladymisskirroyale

    Well played. And yes, Edwyn Collins was the man.

  37. ladymisskirroyale

    One of my music bibles. And this summer’s reading includes Reynold’s follow-up: “Totally Wired: Post-Punk Interviews and Overviews.”

  38. ladymisskirroyale

    And maybe this is more the case in Britain than the US. I don’t know whether it’s a case of their music press or the UK being a small island, but there does seem to be a huge examination of place with these bands.

  39. I avoided The Smiths in the 1980’s and picked up the 2-discs of Best Ofs when I was 21 or 22. I think I had girlfriends that were into them so I gave it a play. I liked them more than I expected to. Can’t say I go back to them too often. I just saw that they are not on my iPod at all. Used to play them to get one of my roomates to get out of our common area and go back to his room (it worked)

  40. I was just listening to a few Best of the Smith cuts looking out at the sunny NJ shore. I really enjoy Marr’s arrangements and laugh laugh at the despondent fragile boy Morrisey.

    I know Marr gets all the credit but some of Andy Rourke’s baselines (“William, it was Really Nothing” and “Headmaster Ritual” for example) are pretty classic.

  41. tonyola

    Peter Hamill the journalist is not the same as Peter Hammill, the singer/songwriter and lead man for Van Der Graff Generator.

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