September 08, 1986 12:00 PM

The Smiths

Anyone familiar with the Smiths has reason to approach each new album from the British quartet with trepidation. Can lead singer Morrissey, who once summed up his world view with the song Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, muster the enthusiasm to entertain us despite the band’s morose lyrics and amorphous melodies? This time the answer is yes. On The Queen Is Dead The Smiths’ 10 brooding tunes hold glints of passion that keep an otherwise restrained style from getting tedious. When the lush acoustic guitar accompaniment rises above the lower ranges with occasional bright chord changes, the contrast creates a real emotional impact. But the lyrics provide the album’s finest moments. Morrissey packs each song with potent poetic images. On the title track he transforms the Queen’s England into a dismal landscape: “Cheerless marshes/ Hemmed in like a boar between arches/ Her Very Lowness with her head in a sling.” Morrissey isn’t always so serious. In Bigmouth Strikes Again he writes, “Now I know how Joan of Arc felt/ As the flames rose to her Roman nose/ And her Walkman started to melt.” Morrissey’s literary allusions—including references to Keats, Yeats and Wilde in Cemetery Gates—may strike some people as pretentious. But there are fresh ideas and sometimes even hope mingled with the misfits’ bitter confessions. In The Boy With the Thorn in His Side, the album’s catchiest pop song, Morrissey sings, “Behind the hatred there lies/ A murderous desire for love.” It is, in fact, the richness below the surface that makes this record such a triumph. (Sire)

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