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Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Smiths: The Queen Is Dead (IAS #22)

This week's review, oh so British:

The Smiths: The Queen Is Dead

15 comments:

  1. Unless we can count any of the singles collections, this is still my favorite of theirs:
    http://everybodysdummy.blogspot.com/2015/01/smiths-4-queen-is-dead.html

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  2. Good review, but obviously from a man who doesn't really care about The Smiths, which somewhat affects the overall review and gives the feeling that album is hugely overrated. Can't agree on couple of points. The Queen Is Dead is actually widely recognized as the peak point of Johnny Marr's guitar and arrangement work, so I don't really get why it should be considered as Morrissey's tour de force. The melodies are also awesome. Every time I listen to 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side', it makes me want to cry. And what about string arrangements on 'The Light...' or guitars in the middle of 'Bigmouth...', the magic atmosphere on 'Some girls...' I could go on and on.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fanatic. In fact, The Smiths wouldn't make my Top-5 bands of all time. I just think that it's not your kind of music, so you can't dully appreciate it, which is alright: I, for one, never understood the fuss around The Beach Boys or Fleetwood Mac. That's just the matter of taste, I guess.

    There's another thing I'd like to notice (as an artist to an artist, as Ostap Bender would have said): your texts are terrific, but why do you keep putting hyphens instead of m dashes in sentences and dumb quotes instead of smart quotes in titles?

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    Replies
    1. To be honest, I do not truly understand the "not your kind of music" accusations. Anything is my kind of music as long as it's diligently composed or emotionally resonant, and plenty of jangly folk-pop falls in that category, including some Smiths material as well - 'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others', which I've duly singled out in the review, is definitely my kind of music. But if there's anything to make one cry on 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side', it can only be Morrissey's vocal part - would you be crying to that song if it were an instrumental as well?

      I can only repeat that on the average, there's nothing here to make these melodies truly stand out in comparison to 10000 Maniacs or, say, Aztec Camera - they're all decent, but hardly mind-blowing in the area of finding new sounds and chords.

      And this is why I don't care THAT much about the Smiths, or about this particular album - because I find it lacking in memorable and innovative melodies, not vice versa. It's not as if Johnny Marr stole my pet parrot or anything. It's just a thing that bugs me about these songs, like the lack of m dashes bugs you in my reviews.

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    2. Thanks, George, for your prompt reply. I totally understand your position. True, there are many bands that music-wise can be put at the same level with The Smiths, be it the mentioned 10 000 Maniacs (although, I personally think that it's a slight exaggeration, in my opinion there is nothing special about this band, but then again, it's my subjective opinion) or Aztec Camera (understated band). What makes the band truly great it's the combination of factors that for some reason strikes a chord with the current generation and generations to come. And from this standpoint none of the stated bands resonated the same way as The Smiths did. Was Nirvana any better than Pearl Jam or Soundgarden? Apparently, no. And Joy Division was probably not better or more innovative than, say, Gang of Four or Wire. But it's namely Nirvana and JD that come to mind and associated with grunge and postpunk accordingly. Because rock music is so much more than simply the music, otherwise all of us would be listening now to classic or whatever. And it's important to grasp that sense of belonging and try to explain it. I agree with the overwhelming majority of your reviews and even got a couple of friends here in Baku hooked on them, but on rare occasions I feel like I have to disagree with some of the points and seems like this review is one of those occasions.

      I don't really get the "vocal part" thing. Would you appreciate 'Eleanor Rigby' or 'God Only Knows' if not for melody and harmonies driven by vocals? Otherwise, they're just carefully produced arrangements. The majority of rock songs are driven by vocal melody accompanied by thought-out arrangements. They complement each other. Unless we're talking about strict instrumentals ('Peaches En Regalia', 'Suction Prints', 'Underture', you name it), of course. So, obviously, it wouldn't make me cry without vocals, but the guitar parts and lush arrangements are great all the same.

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    3. "Would you appreciate 'Eleanor Rigby' or 'God Only Knows' if not for melody and harmonies driven by vocals?"

      YES, ABSOLUTELY. Of course, the vocals are integral and complete the perfection of both these songs. But listen to their "karaoke" versions - incidentally, well available on "Anthology II" and "Stack-o-Tracks", respectively - and you will see well thought out, original, and memorable instrumental melodies; the best of Paul McCartney's and Brian Wilson's compositions always place as much, or sometimes even more, emphasis into the backing tracks as they do in the vocal lines. This is the secret to a truly well-rounded great pop song, whereas B-level bands place too much emphasis on vocal hooks and too little on actual music.

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    4. I got your point. But, frankly, I don't think arrangements backing up the vocal melody should necessarily be memorable from karaoke-sing-along point of view. In this context, where would be the Stones, for instance? Or we're talking strictly about the bands, let me put it this way, with melodic tendencies?

      Even so, compared to Paul and Brian, everyone is B-level. =) But these other musicians may have other strong qualities to their songs that Brian (or even Paul for that matter) can only dream of. And I honestly think that The Smiths have something to their music (wit, humor, sweet melancholy, interesting observations on life, metaphoricity, etc.) that overshadows melodic genius of The Beach Boys.

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    5. "Would you appreciate 'Eleanor Rigby' or 'God Only Knows' if not for melody and harmonies driven by vocals?"

      I second GS's "YES, ABSOLUTELY." It's striking how many jazz musicians did instrumental versions of Beatles songs, including many recorded shortly after the originals were released. The melodies are strong enough to be recognizable through many different instrumental treatments, and their song catalog is rare in this respect among rock/pop bands.

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    6. With few exceptions, jazz covers mainly repeat the vocal lines mixing them with cliched improvisations.

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    7. On some jazz versions of Beatles songs the lines played by guitar or bass are prominent as well. Of course the quality of improvisation on the original version varies from performer to performer.

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    8. I play guitar and one of my favorite books is a set of classical guitar adaptations of Beatles songs. There is a version of Yesterday arranged as a Bossa Nova which is just really fun to play and sounds really good, in my opinion. I think it's the most interesting song in the book, though even the most minor Beatles song is interesting of course.

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  3. Quite boring stuff, I'd say, musicwise. Not bad, but not good enough to occupy such a high spot on rym chart.

    Pardon me for an offtopic question below. George, is there a chance you review Aquarium? You do review artists from all over the world, so i thought maybe. It would be so interesting to know your opinion.

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  4. I've tried a few times to sit through The Queen is Dead, but I haven't made it, yet. I just get bored along the way. However, I absolutely prefer Hat Full of Hollow, a UK release of terrific early Smiths songs. Marr's guitar drives each and every tune.

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  5. Definitely prefer Strangeways or Louder than Bombs, but this one isn't bad. Meat is Murder is so boring. I get the feeling I don't really "get" the Smiths.

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  6. Ooh, Neutral Milk Hotel is up next...THE polarizing band...this could get messy...

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    1. Which reminds me, there's actually a poll on RYM about which Top 100 albums people feel don't belong on there, and last I checked ItAotS had the most votes against it (followed closely by Arcade Fire's Funeral).

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