Classic Album Review: The Queen Is Dead – Smiths [1986, Rough Trade Records]

Posted on by Allison in Classic Albums, Music | Leave a comment


After a long self-imposed hiatus that no one appears to have noticed, the Classic Album Review is back, and this week’s is a doozy.

Firstly, I have somewhat conflicted feelings about including this album at all. As a collective album, I am not sure if it has necessarily stood the test of time given my gargantuan initial appraisal (masterpiece, numero uno, and thrillingly deep all came to mind). As a series of fragmented songs, many of them continue to hold up very nicely.

But then, there is the element of “that was then, this is now,” that plagues much of the music and books I enjoyed in my early teens. When you are a teenager, even discounting the fact that being depressed is very much considered en vogue, there is a definitive end all and be all element to everything you experience in art and hold dear to your heart. The Queen Is Dead is pretty much the epitome of such gnawing emotional tsunami, and for better or for worse represents some embarrassing times for me. No wonder I hardly listen to it anymore. It’s like when you remember sobbing uncontrollably to The Joy Luck Club and thinking that was a pinnacle.

That said, there are some gems on here that will always represent the magic of powerhouse songwriting. The album achieves several coveted things in music:

  1. Distinct atmosphere and era - No doubt due to Morrissey’s album cover choices, love of sophisticated 60’s actors, and the general hollow feel. Listening to this again I realize how underrated Mike Joyce’s drumming is.
  2. Powerful storytelling – So many of the songs from this album derive their impact with the skilled simplicity with which the lyrics construct everything. Frankly, Mr. Shankly is still the ultimate letter of resignation. I’ll get onto the others in a moment.
  3. Intrigue and directness – The best songs on the album create a brilliant dual counterintuitive effect: being direct while creating intrigue. When I use words like “simple” and “plain” stories and ideas, this is the ultimate form of praise. (Almost) everyone is striving for clarity; not everyone manages to achieve it. The uncomplicated potency of these songs just makes us want to know more. And yes, I think Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others means exactly what its title implies.
  4. Humanity – I’m hard pressed to think of an album that might parallel The Queen Is Dead in terms of staunch, raw feelings. Even the sunnier-composed songs (Cemetry Gates, The Boy with the Thorn in His Side) carry an anchor-weight to them and considering the number of times I played it in completion from start to finish, uninterrupted, I wonder how much of the joy in the listening experience is distilled from the wonder of feelings, nothing more than feelings. One of the reasons I think The Queen Is Dead resonates so strongly with teenagers is because everything is heightened…after all, hormones make for technicolor emotions.

BEST

  1. I Know It’s Over – An exploration in self-hatred, human fear and loathing. This song really swims in everyone’s greatest fear: loneliness. But at the core of its being is inspirational optimism for how everyone should be striving to live a better life. This song is a shining example of why the Smiths are a wonderful role model for the young and ought not be thought of as a suicide-making machine. Can you really think of a better general message than, “it’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate…it takes guts to be gentle and kind”? With messages like this, it’s amazing to think Morrissey has never been a guest star on Sesame Street.
  2. The Boy with the Thorn in His Side – Probably tied for my favorite song of the album and the strongest demonstration of what Marr, Joyce, and Rourke contributed to the livelihood of the Smiths and live energy. I still find it difficult to listen to this without scream-singing at the absolute top of my lungs because it’s just so damned easy to listen to. One day children, this song will be considered “adult contemporary” and “easy listening.” Mark my words.
  3. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out – Maybe the most memorable in terms of maudlin thoughts and feelings. After all, it’s all about undying, everlasting, over-the-top love. This song could very well have a subtitle of “a million and one painful ways to die while running away,” yet in spite of all its pyrotechnic dramatism, it  somehow works. Probably the most treasured song of my adolescence, bar none.

Also, does anyone else think that that last song is all about a teenage boy coming out of the closet, running away from his gay bashing parents, and meeting his lover on the way? Just sayin’.

Concert Review: Winter Gloves, Whale Tooth, November 12, Horseshoe

Posted on by sarahw in Concerts | Leave a comment

Winter Gloves @ The Horseshoe
Photo Credit: Kayley Luftig

Toronto – Ask most Torontonians about Winter Gloves and they’ll probably say that they prefer mittens. Okay, okay bad joke. Winter Gloves is a relatively unknown Montreal-based synth-pop band that has started to garner attention from appearing at SXSW, Virgin Festivals and Osheaga.

I first heard about Winter Gloves during Canadian Music Week when they were scheduled alongside the Russian Futurists, The Acorn and Plants and Animals at Lees Palace. Stellar lineup but, alas, because of said lineup I did not get into the show.

Arriving about an hour before Winter Gloves were set to begin, I managed to catch a bit of the opening band, Whale Tooth (Canadian band names are second to none). I was quite blown away. Whale Tooth sounds like a hybrid of No Doubt and She and Him. The lead singer, Elise, has an amazing voice and is also a jazz musician who sings regularly at lounges around Toronto. I will definitely be seeing this band again and am going to try and catch Elise at her next jazz show (November 25, Black Moon Lounge).

Winter Gloves came out at around midnight bursting with energy. Before the show I hadn’t heard much of their latest release, All Red. After hearing a few songs it’s clear that this album is a lot more polished and mature than their freshman effort, About a Girl. The songs aren’t as manic and dance-y but rather more structured, accompanied by great backing instrumentals. I like the sound of their new album and can see that there is a noticeable improvement between About a Girl and All Red.

It’s worth a mention that this band has some rabid Toronto fans. Maybe it’s because the Horseshow is so intimate, maybe it’s because I was right at the front and maybe it’s because the (hot) lead singer hopped into the crowd a few times, but the energy in there was amazing.Winter Gloves  played a solid set and covered quite an array of songs from both of their albums. For the encore they brought Elise back on stage to sing Madonna’s True Blue, which was excellent and got the crowd even more pumped up at the end!

Though I enjoyed Winter Gloves live I was more taken by Whale Tooth. I will definitely keep an eye out for the next Toronto show and be sure to catch Elise LeGrow at her November 25th jazz show.

Sleepwalking by Whale Tooth

Winter Gloves- Plastic Slides by latitude32

Concert Review: Kate Nash, November 13, Phoenix Concert Theatre

Posted on by Paul in Concerts, Everything | 1 Comment

Toronto – So Kate Nash is kind of becoming a bit of a star.  That’s the impression I got as I entered the fairly packed Phoenix for an early Saturday show.  You could see the excitement building amongst the largely young and female crowd (and in the guy standing next to me who was excitedly dancing to the prerecorded music being piped in over the PA.) The excitement grew, manifesting itself as Kate took the stage to the sound of much cheering amd launched into “Doo-Wah-Doo,” followed by “Mouthwash,” which is pretty similar to how she started off her previous show in town at the Mod Club.  One significant change from the setlist of that show is that she saved the song “Foundations” until almost the end of her set, so perhaps she read Ricky’s review and took it to heart. 

Another change from that previous night’s set is that Nash moved more quickly to guitar based songs (she was on the guitar by the third song, although that may have had something to do with the fact that she was uncertain of the structural integrity of the chair she was sitting on) and switched things up a bit, moving back and forth every few songs.  She definitely knows how to work a crowd, and was happy to interact with them, responding to the random things shouted by excitable fans – things like “Get her a drink!” (shouted during a call for silence before a particularly quiet song), “You’re my favourite ginger!” and various comments about her dress, belt, feet, and what she was drinking.  This sort of thing makes a crowd feel like they have some sort of connection with a performer and came across pretty well, as she had some pretty funny reactions.  She does clear her throat into the mic a bit too often though.

While some may feel that her piano pop numbers are stronger, I did find several of the newer guitar based numbers to be mostly pretty compelling as well.  I thought she did a fairly convincing performance, bringing an almost John Lydon-esque vibe to her delivery.  Do I like these songs as much as “Birds” or “Merry Happy?”  No, but they’re still pretty good and this seems to be a direction she’s interested in going in.  Certainly, the bulk of the crowd seemed to be pretty into it, and frankly, I’d rather see a young musician with only 2 albums under her belt branch out into various directions than get pigeonholed as one sort of thing.  Speaking of branching out, Nash played what she referred to as her version of an R n’ B song, “R n B Side.”  She credited her guitarist with coming up with the title and seemed pretty pleased with the wordplay.  It’s pretty good, but as far as clever wordplay goes, I’d have to give the prize for the night to the guy asking for change outside after the show – “Give some cash if you love Kate Nash.”

Kate Nash – Paris by musicfan

Concert Review: The Autumn Defense, November 9, Drake Underground

Posted on by Paul in Concerts | 1 Comment

Toronto –  The Autumn Defense is best known as a side project for Wilco’s John Stirratt and Pat Sansone.  Of course, the truth is Sansone was in this band before he joined Wilco, so if you really wanted to stretch things, you could say Wilco is a side project for him … a really successful side project.  And most likely, these guys don’t care to think of their band as just another side project, something they alluded to when reminiscing about a show at the Horseshoe, where according to Stirratt, they played with “a Nickelback side project.”  “It was side project night,” he added, before going on to explain that they try to avoid the term “side project” … even for the Nickelback guy.  (Side note: a quick perusal of the internets did not reveal any evidence of any Nickelback side projects so i can only assume they must have been talking about Theory Of A Deadman, which is hilarious.  Sorry, TOAD, you’ll always be thought of as Nickelback lite.) 

But if we are going to label them as a side project, let’s examine them in relation to Wilco.  How do they compare?  Well, pretty favourably in that they don’t really sound like Wilco at all and are really doing their own separate thing.  First off, Wilco is clearly Jeff Tweedy’s show, whereas in this band Stirratt and Sansone share vocal and songwriting duties.  Secondly, unlike Wilco, these guys are all about the soft rock, a fact that was clearly evidenced by the second last song of their set, a cover of Bob Welch’s 1977 hit, “Sentimental Lady.”  Sansone introduced the song by saying, “Sing along if you know this song.  You may not think you know it, but then you’ll know you know it.”  And immediately after they started playing, I knew it … but I didn’t really know it.  I kind of remembered it in that hazy sort of way, but definitely didn’t know who sang it.  I saw Sansone after the show and had to ask him.  He was more than happy to tell me, going so far as to explain how it was originally a Fleetwood Mac song, recorded by them in 1972 when Welch was part of that band (the pre-Stevie Nicks/Lindsay Buckingham day) and that their version veers closer to the original version.  Here’s a video of their version of the song, recorded somewhere in Manchester.   

Of course the ’60s/’70s  vibe in their music goes much further than cover songs, permeating their entire catalogue.   Sansone used this fact to gently mock Stirratt at the end of one of his songs, singing a bit of Seals and Croft’s “Summer Breeze” to point out the resemblance.  In fact, Sansone and Stirratt seemed like pretty funny, amiable guys.  Aside from joking around on stage, they hung out at the merch table before and after the show (something they probably don’t do much at Wilco shows) and giving props to openers Sara Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion. 

Not bad for a “side project.”

The Autumn Defense – Every Day by smartleydunn