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Summer Album Roundup : Smiths: Crisp Eccentricity

June 29, 1986|CRAIG LEE

"THE QUEEN IS DEAD." The Smiths. Sire. The sound of the Smiths' singer Morrissey is one long effete, groaning sing-song moan, filled with fey whimsy and petulant anger. He may get monotonous musically, but Morrissey is one of the greatest English eccentrics since Quentin Crisp, and on this collection of whining, lonely-heart yearning ("Never Had No One Ever"), naughty sacrilegious parody ("Vicar in a Tutu") and plain old absurdity ("Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others"), Morrissey's loony, loopy charm is crisply intact.

Of course, a weird lead singer does not an important rock band make. What separates the Smiths from any number of pretentious, self-consciously arty combos is guitarist Johnny Marr's uncanny knack for lilting pop settings for Morrissey's musings.

The music on the Smiths' third album ranges from pretty guitar filigree over lush, lilting arrangements to folky skiffle beats to the Ramones-like density of the title song--though in Morrissey's hands this attack on the British monarchy is more a slap than a knockout punch.

Still, it would take the most dedicated Smiths fan to accept the cutesy silliness of "Frankly Mr. Shankly," and a lot of the themes (and even the lyrics) sound like surplus material from the Smiths' first two albums. This has always been an uncompromising group, but Morrissey's refusal to grow (up) is limiting this band's appeal to the already converted.

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