Release Date: Oct 20, 2017
Record label: Rhino / Warner Bros.
There's not much left to say about The Queen is Dead, arguably the high point of The Smiths' formidable catalog, that hasn't been written before. Nevertheless, the notable thing about this reissue is the previously unreleased material on the bonus discs, which is enough to entice the interest of long-time fans who thought they'd heard everything there is to hear. Of the 13 songs on disc two, nine are previously unreleased.
The "imperial phase" is a nifty concept coined by Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys that describes the point in a pop performer's career arc when they can do no wrong--that Midas-touch stretch when creative risks and commercial heights keep peaking. Signaled by its aptly regal name, The Queen Is Dead is when the Smiths crest into their own imperial moment. Morrissey's words and delivery were never more deftly idiosyncratic or grandly moving; Johnny Marr's guitar overflows with sparkling melody while his arrangements sustain a balance between spareness and intricacy.
Returning to an album you adored beyond reason in your teens is clearly inviting disappointment, but this 1986 Morrissey-Marr career peak proves enduringly rich and rewarding in its punchy, remastered, expanded form. From that Shakespearean state-of-the-nation rockbeast title track to the deceptively sunny, tropical guitar shimmers of Cemetry Gates, from the Billy Liar-esque tartness of Frankly Mr Shankly to the gloriously overblown romantic self-pity of There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, no other British band has ever sounded so simultaneously in love with both life and death. Boy geniuses, still in their twenties, still largely unsoured by the bad blood to come.
There aren't many grabs for pop immortality as wickedly conceived and flawlessly executed as the astonishing title track of The Queen Is Dead, the album where it all came together for The Smiths. I mean, the first verse alone sees Morrissey daydreaming about the royal head rolling before brazenly teasing the heir to the throne. There's nothing meek or twee about this indie kid, he'd always known how to cause a stir, now he had the nous and the audience to really go for it.
On Aug. 5, 1986, the Smiths took the stage at Great Woods (now the Xfinity Center) in Mansfield for the first date of a US tour. That a British indie band could play such a large venue stateside spoke volumes about the word-of-mouth evangelizing and cultish devotion their music inspired; the ecstatic screams that greeted the iconic opening chords of "How Soon Is Now?" were positively Beatles-esque in fervor.