Like any socially aggravating album, The Queen is Dead is blunt. Seemingly simple yet deeply penetrating lines attack everything that the British upper class held dear in the mid-eighties. It also attacks just about everything that the under class held dear. However, the album doesn”t stop there. Morrissey even criticizes himself through constant, deliberately contradicting lyrics.
Breaking away from the synth-driven, new-wave of the proceeding years of popular music, The Queen is Dead takes a turn in a new direction. The material, both lyrically and musically, easily could have been produced in the furious, overtly politicized style of The Sex Pistols or The Clash. But thanks to singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr, the band decided to sublimate their revivalist tendencies and create a new style of guitar-driven rock that focuses more on forlorn resignation and absurd self reflection than on raw emotions and social observation.
The Queen is Dead coming late in their career, is a perfect statement of their maturity. The title track is a farewell to the idealized picture of England, condemning its cheerless marshes, pubs, churches, families and the queen. What is so brilliant though is that Morrissey manages to sing about all of this without sounding political at all.
There is no shortage of literary name dropping on the album, as Morrissey makes reference to Keats, Yeats, and his personal hero Wilde on “Cemetary Gates” and feels sympathy for the 15th Century antagonizer of English dominance, Joan of Arc in “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” But again, he manages to do this without sounding pretentious.
And that is the triumph of this album focusing on the individual as he is affected by society rather than on revolutionary positions to social observations. For The Smiths, this album marks a change from self-obsession to self reflection while still maintaining a sense of indignation towards the world.